"How could anyone make a childrens record with a convicted murderer?" When red-baiting columnist Walter Winchell wrote that in 1941, he wanted to discourage sales of Folkways songs by Huddie Lebetter--but of course it had the opposite effect. Leadbelly went on to become one of Folkways mainstay artists, a songster versed in most aspects of black music. This album reissues the 1960 NEGRO FOLK SONGS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE, and is filled out with studio and radio tracks cut 1941-48.
Folkways founder Moe Asch commissioned several childrens albums--notably those by Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. But Lead came first--and he was good at it. The cover photo of the booklet (full lyrics included) shows Lead playing for a bunch of smiling, hand-clapping tow-heads who look like they're having a good time.
Much of this album was recorded with a live studio audience of kids, and Lead leads singalongs on several numbers. The fare is his usual repertoire, arranged in groups. He starts with childrens rhymes and game songs, which are basically little more than rhythmic chants with strummed accompaniment. Then he moves to spirituals, doing a medley showcasing different sects song styles. The blues are given a nod, on "Good Morning Blues" Lead's accompanied by Kid Orys Creole Band, it becomes a dixieland romp.
But where the album really catches fire is on the work songs; "Rock Island Line", a firey "John Henry" with some incendiary 12 string picking and "Julie Ann Johnson" are some of the more affecting songs here. The set close with some of his well-known pieces like "Midnight Special" and "We're In The Same Boat Brother." There's some title duplication with previously issued CD's in the Legacy series, so this set is probably best for people with kids. Or people who still are kids...
This review is copyright © 1999 by Tony Glover, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.