In the summer of 2011, Mavis Staples and her band arrived at Levon Helm’s barn and studio in Woodstock, New York, to perform at one of Helm’s trademark Midnight Ramble shows. The resulting show, dropping May 20 with the title Carry Me Home, was a moving reunion of two American musical legends who’d known each other for 35 years.
“It never crossed my mind that it might be the last time we’d see each other,” Staples said in a statement. “He was so full of life and so happy that week. He was the same old Levon I’d always known, just a beautiful spirit inside and out.
The album’s first release is a spirited take on the gospel and blues standard “You Got to Move.”
The album, one of the final captured performances of Helm before his death the following year, in 2012, features heartwarming performances from Staples (backed by a combination of hers and Helm’s band) commanding a number of tunes not normally in her live set (Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” Bob Dylan’s “You Gotta Serve Somebody”).
Helm, who was in weak health at the time, played drums throughout the set, reserving his vocals, as was typical during this period, for a verse on “The Weight.”
“My dad built the Midnight Rambles to restore his spirit, his voice, and his livelihood,” Amy Helm Levon’s daughter, said in a statement. “He’d risen back up from all that had laid him down, and to have Mavis come sing and sanctify that stage was the ultimate triumph for him.”