Amy Helm: ‘What the Flood Leaves Behind’ offers urgent tonic for uncertain times

As traumatic as the COVID-19 pandemic has been for us all, I’m finding the end of the pandemic to be as equally traumatic.

The pandemic for me has been like that one big wave at the beach, when you’re a kid, that clobbers you hard, sends salt water into your lungs and leaves you seeing stars as it knocks the wind out of you and takes the legs out from under you, before vanishing back into the sea. Sure, it’s been more than a year since the pandemic took hold. And as much as it has subsided, the coronavirus on many days seems like it will never relent, particularly with the emergence of the Delta variant. But at some point we’ll look back at COVID-19 as though it were the blink of an eye. Of this I’m sure.

That point has yet to arrive and many of us continue to gather the marbles we lost, shake off the dust and expel that pandemic salt water from our lungs as we figure out how to find our groove as life threatens to move on without us. At the moment, many of us continue to carry the pandemic burden as we pick up the pieces, the emotional, physical and financial pieces of the worst health crisis—I hope—in my lifetime.

Each day I watch as the pandemic recedes a little further in my rear-view mirror. But turning my attention forward, I am crawling through busted tree limbs, overturned cars and homes swept away as I let go of my pandemic life, for which I abandoned my pre-pandemic life. All I can focus on know is making peace with the life I am living now. We’ll call it the post-pandemic life? It doesn’t matter what we call it. I am coming to grips with what the flood left behind and I will be for the rest of my life. That’s how I would describe my emotional state at the moment.

So you can imagine how reaffirming it was to learn some time ago that Amy Helm’s new album was titled, well, “What the Flood Leaves Behind.”

Amy Helm. Photo by Ebru Yildiz.

As we all struggle with the illusion of returning to pre-pandemic lives, and come to terms with piecing together our post-pandemic lives, Amy offers an embrace, a compassionate ear to listen to our troubles, an encouraging pep talk to push onward, a nudge out the door on a rainy day, and a sonic validation that we’re all slogging through what the flood left behind. Amy reminds us that this is what the human race does, we continue onward, we ride out the bad days, we carry on, we slog, we endure.

The last live concert I saw pre-pandemic was Tanya Tucker on March 6, 2020, at Levon Helm Studios, the Woodstock, New York recording studio that Amy’s late father operated for decades. The Barn as it is known is where Levon held his Midnight Rambles, those singular musical evenings that redefined the music industry. The Barn is also where live music performances continue and it’s where Amy Helm recorded “What the Flood Leaves Behind.”

The Barn is also where I saw my first post-pandemic live music show, when Amy last month hosted a private audience for a live stream performance to celebrate the release of “What the Flood Leaves Behind.”

The Barn has always been a place of healing for me. But the night of Amy’s show, when she played songs off of this new record, with a band that did not let up on the love, everyone in the room, and everyone watching, surely joined in on a collective exhale in the wake of COVID restrictions being lifted, live music returning and Levon Helm Studios once more serving as a refuge, a launch pad for our own personal revival and resuscitation, and an old-fashioned recharge of the batteries.

Amy with this album release and that performance gave us all the green light to close the circle on the last 17 months and, at long last, move on with our lives.

Amy Helm. Photo by Ebru Yildiz.

The title of “What the Flood Leaves Behind” is somewhat misleading, because this album, this musician and her audience are in no way looking backwards or simply indulging their misery as they stand in the wreckage. This album issues a declaration—we are what the flood left behind. And good riddance to the flood as it makes its way out of the room and out of our lives. The time is at hand to lace up our boots, clear the road and march onward with time, as opposed to maintaining a holding a status in an emergency-panic-crisis-mode. This is my big takeaway from listening to “What the Flood Leaves Behind.”

We have our marching orders. And “What the Flood Leaves Behind” gives us our accompanying post-pandemic playlist. From the defiance of “Breathing,” the second song on the album, to “Renegade Heart,” the final tune, which seems to lament all that we have lost since March 2020, I am unlikely to let anything fall through the cracks. The cement has been poured. The cornerstone has been laid. All of us stand on firm footing with this album, ready for whatever the universe may unleash on us next.

With our marching orders from Amy Helm, we now embark on what could be the most Herculean task any of us take on during the 21st century—simply living our lives and throwing ourselves back into the grind of the normal, typical, COVID-free everyday, never fully abandoning, but keeping an eye, always, on “What the Flood Leaves Behind.”

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