When Levon Helm learned he had throat cancer a decade ago, one of the great voices of American music seemed to be lost.
Surgery and radiation treatments cured him of the disease, but they silenced the robust, son-of-the-South vocals that helped power such Band classics as "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
But not forever. In what the 67-year-old drummer himself termed a miracle, he has regained his singing voice - if it's not all the way back, it's pretty close - and he is enjoying a remarkable renaissance.
For the last few years, Helm has been staging "Midnight Rambles" at his barn-studio in Woodstock, N.Y. They're a highly acclaimed series of concerts featuring Helm's band, local acts, and such guests as Dr. John and Elvis Costello. He has released a couple of CD/DVD sets spotlighting some of the shows, and they are available through www.levonhelm.com. (The barn-studio itself has undergone a rebirth, having been rebuilt after it was nearly destroyed in a fire.)
Last fall, Helm also released Dirt Farmer, his first solo album in 25 years. A salute to his Arkansas roots, the set was coproduced by his daughter, Amy Helm, who sings in his band and whom he credits with getting him through his illness, and guitar wiz Larry Campbell.
On Sunday night, Dirt Farmer won the Grammy for best traditional folk album, while the Band took a lifetime-achievement honor. The latter came more than three decades after the original lineup of the group's celebrated "Last Waltz." (For Helm's scathing view of Martin Scorsese's highly regarded film of that event, check out his entertaining 1993 autobiography, This Wheel's on Fire.)
What's next? A reconciliation with former Band mate Robbie Robertson? That would qualify as another miracle.