Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Huddie Ledbetter - The Mount Everest of Blues Singers

I believe it was Woody Guthrie that gave Lead Belly the appellation used for the title of this compilation and I suppose that is as appropriate as any. Woody was a great admirer of Ledbetter's and was part of the folk scene in NYC when Lead Belly arrived as a guest of Alan Lomax, a mutual friend. Guthrie appears on a couple of tunes here - the first two where they approximate chain gang workers: "Pick a Bale O'Cotton" and "Whoa Back Buck". Other locals from the folk scene makes appearances, as well - Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Cisco Houston, and George "Pops" Foster. I don't have the list of personnel on all of these songs, where he is accompanied on most of the numbers, unlike the other Lead Belly CD that I have where he mostly performs solo. Obviously, the extra performers give this recording a different feel than his solo work (although there are cuts here where he is by himself, as well).

This set is jam-packed with tunes, from more folk-ish numbers like "Midnight Special", "Easy Rider" and "Alabama Bound" to more traditional blues such as "Good Morning Blues", "Leaving Blues", "T.B. Blues", "Red River" to plenty of just "songs", sung in Lead Belly's powerful voice with his simple and effective guitar backing. I love the "chain gang" acapella numbers ("Ham and Eggs" and his trilogy "Looky Looky Yonder/Black Betty/Yella Woman's Doorbell") but everything here is high quality. "Black Girl" is credited to Ledbetter, but it is the much-covered (and great) "In the Pines" under another name. He also does an instrumental dance jig by Blind Lemon Jefferson and there is a cut here that is just Lead Belly dancing (with his feet mic'd)! Of course, his "Goodnight, Irene" is included, though I think that is one of the lesser tunes here - maybe because I've heard it so much. There is definitely overlap with the other collection I mentioned (including his accordion-driven "John Hardy") but lots of variety, as well.

A fine selection of tunes and well worth owning!