“I come from Arkansas roses/Hard times, broken noses,” sings Amy Helm on “Cotton and the Cane” (listen below), from her new album, What the Flood Leaves Behind.
Helm — who will perform at a free show, outdoors at Woodbridge High School, Aug. 25 at 7:30 p.m., with Kerri Powers opening — sings of her father, Levon Helm, directly in this song: “My father was a sharecropper’s son/Handed hope and hymns to ease the pain/The sacred songs my family sang/They’re all that remain.”
In an interview with Bob O’Donnell on the “Morning Dew” program at WFDU (89.1 FM, wfdu.fm), she described “Cotton and the Cane” as “a reflective look at the wreckage of the disease of addiction. But also the retribution of recovery.”
The song was co-written by Helm and Mary Gauthier. “I talked a lot in the song about where my dad came from, and that part of him — his past and my Southern family, my mamaw — and the influence of all of that on him, and then on me, kind of alongside the darker side of rock ‘n’ roll life.”
The title of the album comes from a line, “What the flood leaves behind is what we’ve got to make,” in its opening song, “Verse 23,” which M.C. Taylor (of Hiss Golden Messenger) wrote for Helm and which she recorded shortly before the pandemic began.
“There’s something about the arc of that melody and the words that I find really moving,” said Helm. “And of course it was ironic to record that in January (2020), and then have the world shut down a couple of months later. And listening to it after the pandemic, or in the midst of a pandemic, the lyrics are haunting, in a way, because of that.”
You can listen to this song below, as well.
In addition to the Woodbridge show, Helm also will be at the Mt. Tabor Tabernacle in Parsippany (double billed with Steve Forbert), Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m., and will perform at the Lantern Tour concert (also featuring Emmylou Harris, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams and Gaby Moreno and benefiting migrant and refugee families) at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Collingswood, Oct. 30 at 8 p.m.
For more on Helm, visit amyhelm.com.
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