Lead Belly

Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 4 (1944)

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The Austrian Document Records label continues its series of CDs presenting Leadbelly's commercial recordings in chronological order from 1939 with this fourth volume, which picks up with a series of sessions probably held in May 1944 for record company owner Moses Asch and eventually issued on various records by the labels Asch, Stinson, Folkways, and Arhoolie. The singer's contract with Asch was nonexclusive, and while residing on the West Coast later in the year, he recorded for Capitol Records in October, the tracks issued on singles and EPs. Many of Leadbelly's better-known songs are included in these sessions (in many cases as re-recordings), among them "Easy Rider" ("See See Rider"), "Bourgeois Blues," "Rock Island Line," and "Irene" ("Goodnight Irene"). There are also some newly written and timely tunes, such as "Army Life" (with a vocal chorus singing, "I don't want no more army life/Gee, but I want to go home") and "Mr. Hitler" ("Hitler Song"). The recordings also are notable for the presence of guest musicians including Woody Guthrie, who duets on "We Shall Be Free," and, curiously, Paul Mason Howard, who plays zither on the Capitol performances (tracks 20-27). Leadbelly is in prime shape, and his guitar playing is typically forceful. (He also plays piano on the last two Capitol tunes, the instrumental "Eagle Rock Rag" ["Hot Piano Rag"] and "The Eagle Rocks.") The tracks have been transferred from old vinyl discs, with hiss and crackles audible. The sound quality is generally good, though it's startling when the Capitol tracks begin and they turn out to have been mastered much louder than what came before them.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:33
2 2:50
3 2:35
4 2:53
6 2:55
7 1:13
8 3:43
9 2:25
10 2:20
11 1:48
12 3:06
13 1:09
14 1:42
15 2:08
16 3:02
18 2:21
19 1:33
20 2:45
21 2:57
22 2:57
23 2:54
24 2:54
25 2:44
26 2:53
27 2:58
28 2:47
29 2:44
blue highlight denotes track pick