Drive-By Truckers - Danko/Manuel from The Dirty South


I’ve always felt like this is one of Jason Isbell’s most tragic songs. It’s only tangentially related to Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, but there’s some sharp poignancy when the band drops out and Isbell sings, “Richard Manuel is dead” at the end of the chorus. I’ve had this one in my head lately, for obvious reasons.

When The Band speaks best, most clearly, it almost always uses Levon Helm’s voice. In “The Weight,” Rick Danko sings just one verse and Levon takes that away from him with a yowled “yeah!” that’s among the three or four greatest interjections in rock … It is Helm’s voice, dripping with southern-bred bitterness, that makes “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” genuinely tragic. It could be argued that in Helm, Robertson found his perfect vehicle. But maybe it was Helm who found in the more glib and articulate Robertson a marvelous mouthpiece. Who whispered the secrets of the American Dream in Robertson’s young ear as he drifted through the Ozark wilderness? Who pointed him toward that wilderness in the first place? Levon Helm. And if all this is true, whose vision is this that we’re hearing?
Critic Dave Marsh, speaking truth. Music rarely gets better than “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” (via The A.V. Club’s obituary)