Lonnie Donegan

An Englishman Sings American Folk Songs

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Lonnie Donegan burst onto the American scene with the one thing most listeners never expected, an authentic English rendering of a favorite American folk song. "Rock Island Line" reached number eight, one of the most successful British imports in pre-Beatles Billboard history, and earned Donegan the nickname "the Irish hillbilly"; it must have felt strange, considering he is Scottish. The hillbilly tag stuck, however. Combining cuts from the British Showcase album and Hit Parade, Vol. 2 EP, Donegan's first U.S. album overflows with hillbilly anthems. "Wabash Cannonball," "The Wreck of the Old 97," and "Railroad Bill" all hail from those parts, and if Donegan's native tones twist the songs' expected sound into totally unexpected corners, the album's own liner notes have an answer for that. "Why can't a Britisher faithfully sing an American folk song with the same credentials that an American balladeer can sing 'Greensleeves' or 'Foggy Foggy Dew'?" Well said, Bernard Asbell. Leadbelly, blues, and gospel also make their presence felt as the album travels on, and admirably so. Donegan's version of "Frankie and Johnny" is a marvel, while a plaintive "Nobody's Child" is as definitive as any. The result is a rollicking and astonishingly inventive album, and one of the first and finest shots to be fired in the prehistory of the British Invasion. Skiffle freaks, after all, weren't the only people who grew up listening to Lonnie Donegan. The teenaged Beatles and Stones did, too.