Lead Belly

The Essential

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Leadbelly's shadow looms large in folk and pop music, and several examples are found on this two-disc collection. The Weavers changed the words to "If It Wasn't for Dickey" and took it to the top of the charts in the 1950s as "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine." The driving 12-string guitar in "Gallis Pole" is the obvious prototype for Led Zeppelin's "Gallows Pole." And more recently, the late Kurt Cobain re-created Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night," itself a version of the ancient folk ballad "In the Pines," on Nirvana's now famous MTV Unplugged appearance. Leadbelly is perhaps best known for "Goodnight, Irene," "Rock Island Line," "The Midnight Special," and "Cotton Fields," all songs he either wrote, adapted, or otherwise defined in the American consciousness, and since none of these are included here, it is difficult to call this compilation truly essential; but Leadbelly's musical diversity was so large, encompassing blues, Appalachian folk ballads, children's tunes, work and prison songs, and any number of dances and reels, it is nice to see some of his lesser-known material in the spotlight.

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