Taken as a whole, the recording career of Leadbelly provides ample evidence that he wasn't just a bluesman. Indeed, some of his most famous numbers, such as "Goodnight, Irene," are not blues at all. Blues numbers developed into only a part of his repertoire, and listeners whose interest is primarily blues may want to keep an eye cocked for this set. This album collects the artist's first commercial recordings, done in the mid-30s, after he had sung himself out of a jail sentence for the second time in his life, or so the story goes. Blues numbers dominate completely, and there is a strong influence from Blind Lemon Jefferson, certainly not a bad thing in itself. One of the best songs is even kind of a tribute, entitled "Blind Lemon," although most tributes don't go into such detail about the subject's personal problems. Leadbelly's later recordings were bold and brash, the work of a professional entertainer with spirit and emotion to spare. In contrast, these recordings reveal a touch of microphone nervousness which compliments the intensity of the material perfectly. Performances on both the six- and 12-string guitars are included. The folklore collecting brothers Alan and John Lomax manage to get themselves listed as songwriters on many of the tracks.
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AllMusic Review by Eugene Chadbourne
feat: Huddie Ledbetter