Harry Belafonte once wrote of blues singer Odetta: "Few possess the fine understanding of a song's meaning which transforms it from a melody into a dramatic experience." Pete Seeger heard this collection and declared, "I've been waiting for this album for 50 years!" In continuing her tribute to the classics, Odetta turns her legendary vocal talents to the songs of Huddie Ledbetter, better known to blues history as "Leadbelly." Like Odetta herself, Leadbelly was far more than just a blues singer. His repertoire ranged from children's songs to folk ballads, protest songs to work songs, gospel to jazz. Odetta tackles a handful of his classics in her own distinctive style, with moods ranging from melancholy and emotional (the mandolin-enhanced, saloon-flavored "Mother's Blues") to spirited and humorous ("When I Was a Cowboy"). Many of these songs have great historical significance, from the old folk tune "In the Pines" (which features Seth Farber's stellar piano accompaniment) to the Jim Crow protest song "Bourgeois Blues" (given a lively, New Orleans-flavored treatment). Fans of Leadbelly's music will also enjoy the liner notes, which go into detail about the origins of each song.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran