Monday, December 22, 2008

album of the week : Leadbelly : Huddie Ledbetter's Best

A very important album indeed.

Definitely one of the best for me. Not a compilation, rather a session recorded in Hollywood in 1944 by a fame-hungry Leadbelly who was very far away from home. Home was New York City, where he had settled down in the thirties, after his first recordings.

Huddie Ledebetter was from east Louisiana, in the Caddo Parrish. He first recorded when he was well in his forties. The man is famous for his legendary story (I wish I could write a novel about him). He was discovered while doing time in Angola prison farm in 1933 by ethnomusicologist John Lomax and his son Alan. It wasn't his first prison setence, but at least his third one (including one for murder in Texas). The legend has it that he sang his way out of prison. When the Lomaxes first met him at Angola, they recorded him singing a song asking Governor Pat Neff his grace. One year later he was freed, but Louisiana authorities always denied it was connected to the songs the Lomaxes had brought to the governor's office.
Check out his bio on AMG.

Anyway, Leadbelly is an amazing man, sort of human jukebox from the pre-history of music, who knew thousands of songs, some of them going back to the 19th century, novelty songs ("Irene"), working songs ("Take This Hammer"), blues ("Grasshoppers in my pillow"), prison songs ("The Midnight Special"), even children songs ("It's Christmas Day"). They're all delivered in a passionate way, with this powerful voice and 12-guitar strumming.

I really love this guy : on tape, when he speaks, he sounds gentle, caring. He loved to play for children and was a great entertainer. But he was also an ex-convict who had killed at least one man and badly injured another.

Leadbelly - Ella Speed(buy)

My favorite song is "Irene", and I can't resist posting my own version of it, well, our version that I recorded with my friend Adam in 2004. I beg your indulgence, it is just an amateurish demo we did for fun. I sing lead and play the acoustic guitar (Adma's Martin D-28), he plays the mandolin.

Nicolas & Adam - Irene

Another cover : Alvin Youngblood Hart - When I Was A Cowboy (buy)

And last but not least, let me wish you a merry Christmas with Lead :

Leadbelly - On A Christmas Day (buy)

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