Austin City Limits

ACL Fest Preview: Levon Helm Band and Arctic Monkeys

Levon Helm Band: Levon Helm, former drummer for the Band, probably has more musical knowledge in one of his drumsticks than most musicians do in their entire bodies (and bodies of work). Helm, who survived a bout with throat cancer a while back, is back on top of the Americana heap with another tour of American music's highways and byways, Electric Dirt. Produced by longtime Bob Dylan sideman Larry Campbell, Dirt was the most-played album on Sirius XM's Outlaw Country channel for six whole weeks.

Helm and his horn-playing cohorts take opener "Tennessee Jed," a Grateful Dead song, down to New Orleans with a jaunty Dixieland arrangement, while Campbell and Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien guitarist Jimmy Vivino give the Staples Singers' "Move Along Train" a stiff shot of electric blues. Elsewhere, Helm and friends - with daughter Amy on lead backing vocals - tackle two Muddy Waters songs ("Stuff You Gotta Watch" and "You Can't Lose What You Never Had"), Randy Newman's "Kingfish" and the Stanley Brothers' "White Dove."

Dirt's true standout, though, is Helm's own "Growin' Trade," an agrarian lament that proves this son of rural Arkansas has never lost his affinity with the land. "The summer beauty of the cotton fields was like a view from heaven's door/ My granddaddy said that harvest time was what the Good Lord made us for," he sings. "I guess he'd wonder where's the dignity in a crop you raise to burn/ But this land is my legacy, I got nowhere else to turn."

(6 p.m. Saturday, October 3, LIVESTRONG East stage.)

Arctic Monkeys: UK overnight stars Arctic Monkeys' first two albums, 2006's Whatever They Say I Am, That's What I'm Not and '07's Favourite Worst Nightmare were as wired as a speed freak after a night mainlining caffeine and diet pills. Furthermore, although it's normally a little difficult to imagine anything associated with Queens of the Stone Age being "mellow" - except maybe sexxxy love-jam "Make It Witchu," from Queens' 2007 LP Era Vulgaris.

But everything is relative, and as produced by QOTSA main man Josh Homme, the Monkeys' new album, Humbug, takes just enough edge off to leave the impression that the red-headed stoner-rock god may have actually taught the Monkeys how to relax. (Yoga, we're sure.) The smoldering pace of songs like "Crying Lightning," "Pretty Visitor" and "Dance Little Liar" doesn't necessarily mean the Sheffield-spawned band has gotten lazy, just perhaps a bit more mature, a feeling mirrored in frontman Alex Turner's never-more-incisive lyrics.

(6 p.m. Sunday, October 4, AMD West stage.)

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray