Leadbelly was one of the foundational stones upon which the blues was born. As this exquisite tribute reminds us, however, Hudie Ledbetter was more than just a bluesman. He sang and composed material that was relatively far afield, as well, mostly notable the folk standard "Good Night Irene," conspicuously absent here. Long John Baldry ("don't try to lay no boogie woogie on the King of Rock and Roll") has a voice and demeanor well suited to the material. Sometimes as gruff as Tom Waits, he's an expressive and passionate singer who knows the subject well. From the opening "Lining Track," which inevitably reminds of Taj Mahal's version 30 years ago, he sets the tone. His version of "Gallow's Pole," on which he is joined by fiddler Jesse Zubot and vocalist Kathi McDonald, is as fiery as I've ever heard and the version of "Midnight Special" is a wonderful acoustic version that stands next to any other. "Rock Island Line" is done in a pretty straight ahead manner, rather than the skiffle style popularized by Lonnie Donegan. "Good Morning Blues," opens with a scratchy recording of Leadbelly's version before segueing into Baldry's superb take with harmonica player Butch Coulter. "Birmingham Jail" has a country waltz feel, "We're in the Same Boat Brother" is done in a hootenanny style and "John Hardy" benefits from John Lee Sanders' harmonium. He also does wonderful versions of "Diggin' My Potatoes" and "Mary Don't You Weep." All in all, one of the musical gems of 2002.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Mark E. Gallo, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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