Lead Belly

Leadbelly Live [Fabulous]

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Leadbelly's solo public concert, from June of 1949 at the University of Texas at Austin, has been circulating around at least since the early '70s when Playboy's short-lived record label issued it on vinyl. It's a poignant and beautiful performance by a man who was drawing on some of the last strength he would have for such endeavors -- despite his obvious enjoyment, each of his 61 years shows in the performance here, and it's very sad to hear him mention his illness (ALS) obliquely and the idea that he was going to be all right, thanks to his doctor. Still, the man's playing, though slowed, is still wonderfully skilled as he coaxes rich sounds (if not in the briskest rhythms) from his 12-string guitar, and his singing of the blues and folk numbers in his repertory, under the weight of illness and weariness, is hauntingly vivid; one of his very last public performances of "Rock Island Line" may not have the excitement of the early recordings, but it has as much meaning as the first did, and his performance of the first half of "Go Down Old Hannah" (which he does a cappella in the first half) is worth the price of the CD by itself. This concert has been issued before on CD, as In Concert by Magnum Music (and possibly other outlets), but the Acrobat release is slightly louder and offers sound that is just a bit fuller.

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