Celtic Connections prides itself in bringing the world to Glasgow and on the second Saturday of the festival we were treated to some classic Americana live on stage. Amy Helm has opened for the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples, playing a similarly soulful blend of roots rock, learned from a life lived in the history of American music.
Sharing the bill was Texan native Andrew Combs, now living in Nashville, whose blend of smooth country and self-deprecating humour went down well with the Glasgow audience. He drank from a can of Tennents like a native and received a rousing reception for his excellent new song Firestarter (not the Prodigy song he was quick to point out). Other highlights of his set included Rainy Day Song, written with Brent Cobb, and Too Stoned To Cry from his recently rereleased album ‘Worried Man’.
Amy Helm and her excellent live band then took to the stage to play a delicious melting pot of rock n roll, gospel, country, blues and soul. She opened with the song ‘Cotton and the Cane’, which is an ode to family and memory. As the daughter of singer-songwriter Libby Titus and The Band’s legendary drummer Levon Helm, she understands more than most about the history of roots music and its sacred power to bring joy the people.
Didn’t it Rain and Rescue Me, both from her debut solo album, added elements of funk to the band’s soulful sound, encouraging the crowd to dance along. River of Love, written by T Bone Burnett, was one of the standouts of her excellent 2018 album ‘This Too Shall Light’ and it sounded even better live, her powerful voice echoing around the room. The title track of that album was another live highlight, with its refrain ‘don’t let the darkness own you’ a gentle reminder to step into the light.
Through the set Helm played mandolin and she celebrated her instrument with a cover of Rod Stewart’s ‘Mandolin Wind’, a little lost gem of a song which was lovingly brought back to life. A stirring live version of ‘Michigan’ by Milk Carton Kids showed she cares about celebrating contemporary songwriting too, and this version included an extended solo from her impressive guitarist Mark Marshall.
Amy also sang a ‘deep cut’ from The Band called ‘To Kingdom Come’, honouring her father for all that her taught her about music. The highlight of the evening was no doubt the encore of hymn Gloryland, another song which she learned from Levon. Accompanying Helm on this version was her band mate Adam Minkoff, and their voices swelled together in a spine tingling acapella performance, celebrating the importance of faith, freedom and friendship.
She followed that quiet moment of bliss with two rousing rock songs to send the appreciative crowd home on a Saturday night high. Amy Helm’s joyful blend of rock and roll and roots music made for a memorable, and moving, evening.
TOUR DATES: http://www.amyhelm.com/tour-landing/
All photographs, with kind permission, by Kendall Wilson Photography