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Where Did You Sleep Last Night: Lead Belly Legacy, Vol. 1

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Album Review

The bulk of the best performances by Leadbelly — whose influence on the folk revival of the 1950s and '60s cannot be overstated — were recorded during the '40s for Folkways Records founder Moses Asch. Inferior copies and re-recordings of these tunes have appeared over the years, but the original masters have sat in the vaults of Folkways. The three-volume Where Did You Sleep Last Night: Lead Belly Legacy collection shows what we've been missing: the compilers dug out the best available versions of Leadbelly's finest songs and carefully transferred them from the original acetate masters. As the liner notes promise, "these recordings can again be heard the way they sounded in the early 1940s, for in the original masters you can still hear the ringing of the guitar and thumping of the bass." This 34-song first volume is a must for anyone interested in the roots of American folk. It opens with "Irene," which (as "Goodnight Irene") became a national hit for the Weavers less than a year after Leadbelly died on welfare; it includes many more of his most-famous tunes, among them "Rock Island Line," "Cotton Fields," and "Good Morning Blues."


Born: 20 January 1888 in Mooringsport, LA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '10s, '20s, '30s, '40s

Huddie Ledbetter, known as Lead Belly, was a unique figure in the American popular music of the 20th century. Ultimately, he was best remembered for a body of songs that he discovered, adapted, or wrote, including "Goodnight, Irene," "Rock Island Line," "The Midnight Special," and "Cotton Fields." But he was also an early example of a folksinger whose background had brought him into direct contact with the oral tradition by which folk music was handed down, a tradition that, by the early years of...
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