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on 27 April 2016
These recordings were arranged by Alan Lomax in 1940 with RCA-Victor, then the largest recording company in American, because he felt that Lead Belly's work should be better known and the record company was interested in expanding into folk music and educational material; earlier in the year Alan Lomax had arranged for Woody Guthrie's to record his Dust Bowl Ballads for the same company. Presumably RCA-Victor had an excellent studio and the best recording equipment and this certainly shows as the technical quality of the recordings is far superior to anything that Lead Belly recorded before and a good deal of what he recorded afterwards. The recordings have now been remastered and the clarity is really quite amazing, especially considering they were recorded over seventy-five years ago.
Alan Lomax teamed Lead Belly up with the Golden Gate Quartet, a very sophisticated (mainly) gospel singing group, a curious combination considering Lead Belly's raw style. He was presumably trying to produce recordings in the style of the prison singing that he and his father had recorded a little time before. Neither Lead Belly nor the Gates were particularly enthusiastic about this combination but it the main it worked very well. On the 15th June Lead Belly recorded six titles with the quartet and eight titles solo, accompanying himself on his 12-string guitar; two days later he recorded another eight titles solo and another six with the quartet. Six of the titles with the Gates appeared in a 78 rpm album and most of the titles were issued as 78 rpm singles around the same time; all the titles have since appeared here and there in various combinations over the subsequent years. However, here we have the complete sides issued in datal, if not quite in matrix , order with superior sound quality, having been taken from the metal masters rather than old 78's. Well, almost all as some of the titles had more than one take.
Particularly fine with the Golden Gate Quartet are 'Pick a Bale of Cotton', Yellow Gal, Line 'Em and Didn't Old John; and solo Lead Belly shows particularly fine voice in T B Blues, Roberta, Sail On and Good Morning Blues.
The accompanying notes are very good indeed, the authors being well versed in their subject. There is information about Lead Belly, the Golden Gate Quartet, the recording sessions and the songs themselves. Details of the sides are given with recording date, personnel and matrix number. There is also a useful reference to Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell's book on the Life of Lead Belly for those who want to learn more.
This is an excellent production and probably the best introduction to Lead Belly's work there is. It's a pity there are a couple of minor irritations such as 'Huddie' being spelled 'Huddy', and the feeling by the producers that they needed to subtitle the CD 'The Secret History of Rock and Roll'. It is also very expensive CD but here you do get the whole session with no gaps and no duplications. Hardly a star loosing point: perhaps I should get out more.
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on 6 December 2010
I love the music of Huddie Ledbetter, alias 'Leadbelly', and the remaining two stars are for his solo work here, tracks 7 - 14 & 22 - 26. The remaining tracks, half of those on this recording, lost three stars, spoiled by the presence of 'The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet' - yuck! - recordings laid down in the RCA Victor studios on July 15th & 17th, 1940. Let's just clarify this, whatever the colour, a group of barbershop/jubilee quartet geeks in tuxes are not likely to carry any depth of understanding of either this stellar musician or the music in him. For me they get in the way, and the evidence is in some of the dreadful and conflicting harmonizing and ego that bubble and burst through, impositions that lessen rather than add to the music of Mr. Ledbetter, that, for me, get in the way. As I hear it, it ain't respectful. It's downright irritating. As well, because of this imposition, lack of understanding and appreciation, this is also poor as a representation of "The Secret History of Rock & Roll", the name of this series. Those tracks hammered by the Golden Quartet's take on the gospel and harmony, if they were the only thing we had, would have meant a derailment. I suspect the commercial interests of the Victor Studios drove this weird mix, a bit like mixing Freddy Mercury with an opera singer. The presence of this vocal quartet group and its harmonizing has had a dulling effect, has put the fire out and killed the steam. Much better are the recordings that Leadbelly made in the 30s, just the man and his guitar, supurb...

For a better and more heart and soul full take on this excellent musician start with this instead, the first in a series of 3 Smithsonian Folkways recordings -

"Lead Belly Legacy Volume 1: Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" - Where Did You Sleep Last Night? - Legacy V1...

Also recommended are the several Rounder label recordings, excellent, and they do the man a good service, and the listener. Here are two examples from Rounder -

Midnight Special
Gwine Dig a Hole to Put the Devil in

& also a fine listen -
King of the 12 String Guitar

& if your thing is the likes of 'The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet', why not also take them on their own, for what they were famed for back then in the 30s and early 40s? -

Rock My Soul: 29 Original Mono Recordings 1937-1946
Gospel Train: Original 1937-1942 Recordings
Golden Gate Quartet Vol.1 1937-1938
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on 28 August 2008
Great introduction to blues legend. There is some omissions and some filler, but that's the nature of the beast with compilations. Midnight Special is obviously the highlight, Alabama Bound a close second.
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on 20 September 2006
please buy this to hear possibly the greatest artist of the 20th century at his best.Much of what comes after this album was influenced by it( whether the artists know it or not).I like beautiful songs beautifully sung....roll up!!!
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