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Levon Helm & The RCO All-Stars – The Reel Stuff (Rattlesnake RS 253)

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Levon Helm & The RCO All Stars “The Reel Stuff” ( Rattlesnake RS 253 )

Studio Jams ; Havana Moon ( Run Thru ) Bookers Idea / Havana Moon / Valley Of Tears / Searchin’ – Fanny Mae / Good Night Irene ( I ) / Good Night Irene ( II ) / Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out ( Instrumental ) / Jam – Riff ( I ) / Jam – Riff ( II ) / ROUGH MIXES / Good Night Irene ( Tim Kramer & Rob Fraboni mix ) / That’s My Home ( Tim Kramer & Rick Ash mix ) / MONITOR MIXES / That’s My Home / Booker’s Tune ( Last take w/o Fred C. ) / Booker’s Tune ( AKA You Got Me ) / Booker’s Tune ( W. Fred C. ) / BONUS TRACKS / Blue Moon Of Kentucky ( Single 1980 ) / Working In The Coal Mine ( B-side single 1980 ) (74:44)

This CD comes from a previously unbooted reel of tracks and takes from the inaugural Levon Helm and the RCO Allstars recorded at the Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, CA in 1977. Levon has recently finished his work with The Band and while it would be another year until he would get his due respects for his part in the film “The Last Waltz” with his full bodied singing throughout the concert along with his reputation from the band alone he was able to draw on influence and friendship, call in a few other musicians and record an album that the liner notes stated would be “creating an atmosphere that people can have a good time with and even dance to”

With a roll call including Mac Rebennack ( otherwise known as Dr. John), Paul Butterfield, Booker T. Jones, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Steve Cropper, Tom Malone, Alan Rubin and old band mates Henry Glover and Fred Carter Jr. whom also appeared with The Hawks. The LP was heavily promoted from it’s release with a grand party to bolster it’s premise and various live dates from the band.

This Rattlesnake release is in exemplary studio quality. Crystal clear recordings from what one assumes must be a studio master tape – Even the monitor mixes sound bold enough to be clear and crisp. Thrown in for good measure is the rare single outing from 1980 “Blue Moon Of Kentucky / Working In The Coal Mine.”

Most of the tracks here sound more like polished jams – although none of the members here were chosen for nothing if not their virtuosity – a friendly feeling of commarardiry rather than a gang of shit hot musicians battling to compete with each other or show off their chops. It’s a glisteningly warm, Sunday morning of a session.
The CD starts with a little studio atmosphere and chatter from Levon “A little bit of what Booker was doing ..” before we glide effortlessly in to an instrumental warm up for Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon”. It bears no resemblance at all to the finished article rather just a slow bar room shuffle. 
A more distinct feel hits the second take as it’s played in it’s familiar, calypso form.

“Valley Of Tears”, the Fats Domino hit is played in a tinkling bar room style. Mac and Booker cross paths playing along side but not together, crossing paths as they sway between each others work.

The group follow with a rough amalgamation of both the Coasters “Searchin’” and Buster Brown’s “Fannie May”. A fun little sprint between the two. Levon is obviously not taking the whole thing too seriously half singing in to the mike, half singing in to thin air. The rest of the players obviously now the tune(s) well and it’s of no discourse to romp through them both. It may have been a contender at some point, but this wasn’t the take.

Another rehearsed but not used track is Leadbelly’s folk standard “Goodnight Irene” although, by the versions used on this disk, it was obviously considered for inclusion. Two versions appear here, the first, a faster version of the two, romps along with abandon, the second version doesn’t really pace itself down a whole lot but brings out a little more of the galloping jug band, rolling piano riffs that aren’t apparent in the bustle of the first version. The second version features longer instrumental passages than the first and also seemed to out stay it’s welcome as the tape rolls to a very abrupt hold at the end of the track.

An instrumental of the much loved “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out” follows. It’s another take that never made the final cut but fell short of choice. Too bad as it’s a perfectly reasonable take, the band evidently taking care with their choice and with a running time of over 7 minutes something that you could lose yourself in but the comments towards the end make you wonder if the band had no intention of making it for the album regardless.

The Jams portion of the disk conclude with just that – 2 loose and easy snatches of studio verite that were touched upon between takes. Part one a gospelish trio of Mac’s keyboard, Booker’s Organ and Donald’s bass that Levon joins in on towards the end. The short but sweet part two is pretty much more of the same.

From the rough mixes portion of the set “Good Night, Irene” makes it’s third appearance on this set with a Tim Kramer and Rob Fraboni prepared mix that was obviously primed for inclusion somewhere while “That’s My Home” makes it’s first appearance with a Tim Kramer and Rick Ash mix.

The monitor mixes include the second version of “That’s My Home.” Not immediately any different from the rough mix that proceeded it apart from it sounds a distant bit quieter and lasts all of 19 seconds longer ..
3 takes of “You Got Me” (titled “Booker’s Tune” here, maybe that’s the way it was written on either the tape box or recording notes?) complete the outtakes section of the CD.

The first without the contribution of Fred Carter Jr but including a count in and a natural end, the second is an alternate version without count in and a tape crunching full stop then the third version with Fred’s contribution intact. There are few differences between the takes though are are scarcely noticeable.

The 1980 single, produced from songs recorded promoting the Levon Helm film”The Coalminers Daughter” lead off the disk. These tracks were presumably on the tape or came from a close source as they sound great here and not from the vinyl as I had first suspected they may be.

Like the Audiofon Pete Townshend / Ronnie Lane “Rough Mix” title of a few years ago this CD is produced with loving care by people who seem to appreciate their music not money and is a labour of love rather than a facile, late cash in on Levon’s name. The original CD seems to be difficult to collect nowadays – even the reissue twofer that came out only recently seems to be lost to the wind of possible publishing rights however, this is a nice way of eavesdropping in on to some of those sessions.

One of the must have CDs this year – and at such an early point.

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Levon Helm & The RCO All-Stars - The Reel Stuff (Rattlesnake RS 253) , 4.9 out of 5 based on 4 ratings

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