Long John Baldry

Remembering Leadbelly

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Remembering Leadbelly Review

by Chris Nickson

Long John Baldry came of age as a singer during the British blues boom, and it's obvious that his love of the music hasn't left him. As he explains in the interview track at the end, Leadbelly was his first musical inspiration, and here he has his chance to pay homage to the man. In his sixties at the time of this recording, Baldry's voice has improved with age, deepening a little and sounding more gravelly -- just perfect for the grittiness of Leadbelly's songs, which ran the gamut from blues to folk, gospel, and beyond. It's an intelligent selection, ignoring the obvious "Goodnight Irene" and "In the Pines," while keeping defining moments like "Rock Island Line" (the tune that launched skiffle in England), "Birmingham Jail," and "We're in the Same Boat Brother" -- it's remarkable just how familiar so much of the material is. The version of "Gallows Pole" (much better known for its subsequent incarnation as a Led Zeppelin piece) roars with power and urgency, "Lining Track" and "John Hardy" (whose unusual arrangement centers around pump organ) are definitive railroad songs, while the hymns "Mary Don't You Weep" and "We Shall Walk Through the Valley," though springing from an older well, were very much a part of the Huddie Leadbetter repertoire. There's even a children's song, "On a Christmas Day," showing yet another facet of the big man. Add in an interview with Alan Lomax, the folklorist who discovered Leadbelly and helped his career, and you have something that stands as more than a tribute, but a full portrait of a seminal American artist.

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