Lead Belly

Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 5 (1944-1946)

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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 fifth volume, which picks up at the end of the singer's series of recordings for Capitol Records in Los Angeles in October 1944. Although the next batch of performances (tracks three through 14) come from a live performance for children in San Francisco in February 1945 that was broadcast on the radio, they fit into the "commercial recordings" framework because the tape was later pressed onto a disc by Folkways Records. By June 1946, Leadbelly was back in New York doing informal sessions for Moses Asch, soon to found Folkways, though most of these tracks were issued on its predecessor, Disc Records. Here, the singer is joined by such friends as Brownie McGhee, Woody Guthrie, and Cisco Houston, as well as jazz musicians Willie "The Lion" Smith and George "Pops" Foster. Many of Leadbelly's better-known songs are included in these sessions (in many cases as re-recordings), among them "Irene, Goodnight," "John Henry" (two versions), "Boll Weevil," "Rock Island Line" (a version that served as a blueprint for Lonnie Donegan's hit cover), "Alabama Bound," and "Midnight Special." The singer is in prime shape, and his guitar playing is typically forceful. The tracks have been transferred from old vinyl discs, with hiss and crackles audible occasionally, but the sound quality is generally good.

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