THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Mavis Staples and Levon Helm’s mutual love and admiration is on full display on Carry Me Home, a new album that finds the two legends (and members of their bands) operating at the peak of their powers as they work their way through an eclectic setlist of tunes made famous by the likes of Nina Simone, The Impressions, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones.
Captured live in the summer of 2011, Carry Me Home showcases two of the past century’s most iconic voices coming together in love and joy, tracing their shared roots and celebrating the enduring power of faith and music. The setlist was righteous that night, mixing vintage gospel and soul with timeless folk and blues, and the performances were loose and playful, fueled by an ecstatic atmosphere that was equal parts family reunion and tent revival.
Read between the lines, though, and there’s an even more poignant story at play here. Neither Staples nor Helm knew that this would be their last performance together — indeed, the collection marks one of Helm’s final recordings before his death — and listening back now, a little more than a decade later, tunes like This May Be The Last Time and Farther Along take on new, bittersweet meaning.
The result is an album that’s at once a time capsule and a memorial, a blissful homecoming and a fond farewell, a once-in-a-lifetime concert — and friendship — preserved for the ages.
“It never crossed my mind that it might be the last time we’d see each other,” says Staples. “He was so full of life and so happy that week. He was the same old Levon I’d always known, just a beautiful spirit inside and out.”
Though Staples and Helm got on like childhood pals, the two were already both stars in their own right by the time they first met at the 1976 filming of The Last Waltz. Critics would go on to cite The Staple Singers’ collaboration with The Band on The Weight as a high point of the film. Mavis and Levon would remain close friends in the decades to come, but it was unclear if the pair would ever get to sing together again after Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998. Luckily, they were able to capture another performance of this song together at the 2011 session.
“The place just went wild when Levon sang,” says Staples. “It was a real full-circle moment to be performing that song together again.”