Along with the New York sessions encompassed on Leadbelly's Last Sessions and the surviving tape of the final show he ever played (in Texas in 1949), the tape of this performance -- made at a private party in Minneapolis November 21, 1948 -- constitutes a big chunk of Leadbelly's late-career output, and it is distinct from the others. In contrast to his late recording sessions, which were done alone (apart from the person doing the recording), or his final concert in Texas, in which he was playing to a large crowd, on this tape, Leadbelly was singing one-on-one to a relative handful of people and addressing his songs and comments personally; it's the equivalent of a private Leadbelly performance preserved for posterity and it captures the man while he was still near the peak of his powers, before the illness that would ultimately kill him began to manifest itself. He is outgoing and upbeat, and generates a big sound on his 12-string guitar, sounding, at times, like two players working in unison. The circumstances of the party where he was playing were also reflective of a larger reality. Minneapolis was a hotbed of civil rights activism in the late '40s, spearheaded by its mayor, Hubert Humphrey, who forced a civil rights plank into the platform of the 1948 Democratic National Convention and won a U.S. Senate seat in that same election; a lot of the issues that lay just beneath the surface of Leadbelly's songs were the currency of conversation on the campus of the University of Minnesota, where this performance took place. Leadbelly ranges across his whole repertoire, including "Mississippi River," "Goodnight Irene," "Dicky" (which became "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine"), "Bourgeois Blues," "Stewball," and "Fannin Street." He also reminisces freely about the songs and his life in ways that a formal concert wouldn't normally allow. The audio quality is very good -- excellent, actually, given the age of the performance -- with a realistic room ambience and a close sound for the man and his guitar, and the disc is at least as essential listening as Leadbelly's Last Sessions.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder