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Lead Belly's Last Sessions Box set

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Audio CD, Box set, September 25, 1994
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The press release calls this "The most famous and sought-after blues & folk recordings ever made"; these 96 tracks (two unissued) have inspired American artists as diverse as Neil Young and William Styron. Nearly all of Leadbelly's most famous songs are here- Rock Island Line; Midnight Special; Goodnight, Irene; Easy Rider , etc.-plus gripping storytelling, all recorded on tape in 1948 for the only time in his career (hence better fidelity and uninterrupted recording). These four CDs come in a limited edition slipcase with extensive notes, rare photos, bio and discography.

Leadbelly's Last Sessions is a remarkable document. Recorded over the course of three nights in 1948, approximately one year before his death, Sessions constitutes the only commercial recordings of Leadbelly ever made on magnetic tape. The sound here is still primitive by most standards, but it's a vast improvement over the quality of his earlier sides. On this four-disc collection, Huddie Ledbetter sets down as much of his repertoire as he could, from field hollers, blues, and country & western songs to children's tunes, ballads, autobiographical pieces, and popular hits of the day. The tape continues to roll between takes, catching Leadbelly's shifts of moods and changes of interest. He didn't know these would be his last recordings, of course, but he seems to have saved something special for these performances, which are as freewheeling, charming, and authoritative as anything he ever recorded. --Daniel Durchholz

Listen to Samples and Buy MP3s

Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Disc 1:

Song Title Time Price
  1. Yes, I Was Standing in the Bottom 1:40$0.99  Buy MP3 
  2. Yes, I'm Going Down in Louisiana0:42$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. Ain't Going Down to the Well No More 1:23$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. Dick Ligger's Holler0:43$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. Liza Jane 2:08$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. Dog Latin Song0:52$0.99  Buy MP3 
  7. Leaving Blues0:31$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. Go Down, Old Hannah 4:59$0.99  Buy MP3 
  9. The Blue Tailed Fly (Jimmie Crack Corn) 2:20$0.99  Buy MP3 
10. Nobody in This World is Better Than Us 1:26$0.99  Buy MP3 
11. We're in the Same Boat, Brother 2:18$0.99  Buy MP3 
12. Looky Looky Yonder 1:33$0.99  Buy MP3 
13. Jolly O the Ransom0:57$0.99  Buy MP3 
14. Old Ship of Zion 1:51$0.99  Buy MP3 
15. Bring Me a Little Water, Silvy 1:27$0.99  Buy MP3 
16. Mistreatin' Mama 1:24$0.99  Buy MP3 
17. Black Betty 1:52$0.99  Buy MP3 
18. Ain't Going Down to the Well No More 2:45$0.99  Buy MP3 
19. Yes, I'm Going Down in Louisiana0:28$0.99  Buy MP3 
20. I Don't Know You, What Have I Done? 3:11$0.99  Buy MP3 
21. Rock Island Line 1:03$0.99  Buy MP3 
22. Old Man, Will Your Dog Catch a Rabbit? 1:29$0.99  Buy MP3 
23. Shorty George0:46$0.99  Buy MP3 
24. Stewball 2:34$0.99  Buy MP3 
25. Bottle Up and Go 1:25$0.99  Buy MP3 
26. You Know I Got to Do It0:52$0.99  Buy MP3 
27. Ain't It a Shame to Go Fishin' on Sunday 1:21$0.99  Buy MP3 
28. DeKalb Blues (Ain't Gonna Drink No More) 2:37$0.99  Buy MP3 
29. Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues 2:18$0.99  Buy MP3 
30. My Lindy Lou 1:08$0.99  Buy MP3 
31. I'm Thinking of a Friend 3:22$0.99  Buy MP3 
32. He Never Said a Mumbling Word 2:28$0.99  Buy MP3 
33. Gee, But I Want to Go Home (Army Life) 3:59$0.99  Buy MP3 
34. In the World 2:01$0.99  Buy MP3 
35. I Want to Go Home 1:26$0.99  Buy MP3 

Disc 2:

Song Title Time Price
  1. New Iberia 3:08$0.99  Buy MP3 
  2. Dancing with Tears in My Eyes 3:11$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. John Henry 4:59$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. Salty Dog 3:29$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. National Defense Blues 3:30$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. Easy, Mr. Tom 2:08$0.99  Buy MP3 
  7. Relax Your Mind 4:09$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. Bottle Up and Go 3:36$0.99  Buy MP3 
  9. Polly Wolly Wee 1:45$0.99  Buy MP3 
10. Pig Latin Song 2:10$0.99  Buy MP3 
11. Hawaiian Song 2:15$0.99  Buy MP3 
12. Drinkin' Lum Y A Alla 1:50$0.99  Buy MP3 
13. The Gray Goose 2:17$0.99  Buy MP3 
14. Silver City Bound 6:01$0.99  Buy MP3 
15. The Titanic 5:14$0.99  Buy MP3 
16. Death Letter Blues 3:29$0.99  Buy MP3 
17. Oh, Mary Don't You Weep 3:28$0.99  Buy MP3 
18. He Never Said a Mumbling Word 2:49$0.99  Buy MP3 

Disc 3:

Song Title Time Price
  1. The Midnight Special 2:11$0.99  Buy MP3 
  2. Boll Weevil 3:06$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. Careless Love 6:28$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. Easy Rider 3:00$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. Fannin Street (Mr. Tom Hughes' Town)(Cry to Me) 3:31$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. DeKalb Blues (Ain't Going to Drink No More) 3:54$0.99  Buy MP3 
  7. Birmingham Jail 2:56$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. Old Riley 1:46$0.99  Buy MP3 
  9. Julie Ann Johnson 1:11$0.99  Buy MP3 
10. It's Tight Like That 3:12$0.99  Buy MP3 
11. 4, 5 and 9 4:53$0.99  Buy MP3 
12. Good Morning Babe, How Do You Do?0:41$0.99  Buy MP3 
13. Jail House Blues 4:31$0.99  Buy MP3 
14. Well, You Know I Had to Do It 2:56$0.99  Buy MP3 
15. Irene (Goodnight Irene) 1:22$0.99  Buy MP3 
16. Story of the 25 Cent Dude 2:19$0.99  Buy MP3 
17. How Come You Do Me Like You Do? 3:24$0.99  Buy MP3 
18. Hello Central, Give Me Long Distance Phone 5:29$0.99  Buy MP3 
19. Hesitation Blues 2:17$0.99  Buy MP3 
20. I'll Be Down on the Last Bread Wagon 3:35$0.99  Buy MP3 

Disc 4:

Song Title Time Price
  1. Digging My Potatoes 4:00$0.99  Buy MP3 
  2. Springtime in the Rockies 3:02$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. Chinatown 1:11$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. Rock Island Line 1:57$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. Backwater Blues 3:27$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. Governor Pat Neff (Sweet Mary) 3:12$0.99  Buy MP3 
  7. Irene (Goodnight Irene) 2:44$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. Easy, Mr. Tom 2:16$0.99  Buy MP3 
  9. In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down 2:54$0.99  Buy MP3 
10. I'm Alone Because I Love You 2:54$0.99  Buy MP3 
11. House of the Rising Sun 2:23$0.99  Buy MP3 
12. Oh, Mary Don't You Weep 1:58$0.99  Buy MP3 
13. Talk About Fannin Street 3:41$0.99  Buy MP3 
14. Fannin Street (Mr. Tom Hughes' Town) 3:36$0.99  Buy MP3 
15. Sugar'd Beer 1:40$0.99  Buy MP3 
16. Didn't Old John Cross the Water? 2:01$0.99  Buy MP3 
17. Nobody Knows You When Your Down and Out 3:19$0.99  Buy MP3 
18. Bully of the Town 2:08$0.99  Buy MP3 
19. Sweet Jenny Lee 1:54$0.99  Buy MP3 
20. Yellow Gal 2:03$0.99  Buy MP3 
21. He Was the Man 3:48$0.99  Buy MP3 
22. We're in the Same Boat, Brother 4:16$0.99  Buy MP3 
23. Leaving Blues 2:36$0.99  Buy MP3 

Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 25, 1994)
  • Number of Discs: 4
  • Format: Box set
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: Smithsonian Folkways
  • ASIN: B000001DJC
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,649 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By B. Johnson on April 16, 2003
Format: Audio CD
These four disks are recorded on analog audio tape. The only ones existing of Leadbelly. (all other leadbelly recordings are straight to vinyl) The recodings were made in the living room of a folk song collector, on two or three seperate nights. Since the first night leadbelly didn't bring his guitar he sings acapella most of the first disk. The other three disks have his 12 string accompanyment. The improved sound quality becomes very apparent here. Unlike most of his records you can hear all 12 strings! It sounds beautiful. Another benefit of these being on audio tape is that Leadbelly can potentially play a song much longer than in prior recording. However he seldom does. Being more informal than a recoding studio it also gives insight as to what Leadbelly's set list may have been like at a concert or everyday party. Though these individual song versions may not be the definative versions, or Leadbelly at his best, all these songs are gems and a must have for any folk collection. Also be warned that due to the informal nature of these recordings, songs are at times cropped in the beginning or end due to the tape running out.

Towards the end of the disks Leadbellys wife Martha sings with him. In all due respect to Martha she sort of slows the momentum of this collection down. Though I'm sure Leadbelly always encouraged people to sing along with his songs, and he can be heard doing so here.

The brightest gem of this collection may be listening to Leadbelly laugh at his own singing on the funny classic, Diggin' My Potatoes. Or being able to hear him slap his knee in time on Salty Dog.

Summary: Sping for it. Its something you won't find on any other collection.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By H. Brumfield on January 22, 2003
Format: Audio CD
Prior to this record, Huddie Ledbetter was confined to the limitations of the recording technology of the day. This resulted in an abundance of two-to-three minute long gems (as much as would fit on an acetate disc) which, while brilliant, obscured the essence of Leadbelly's artistry as a "songster". Fortunately for us and the evolution of popular music as a whole, shortly before this giant of a man (who survived having his throat cut, being shot at by the chain-gang boss as he escaped with ball-and-chain in hand, a suicide attempt as a last resort from prison, and the finicky tastes of New York high society which regarded him as little more than an amazing novelty) succumbed to Lou Gehrig's Disease, new technology was introduced that allowed him to loosen up and let the music flow naturally.
And a motherlode of music it is. While the first CD is comprised of accapella field hollers and spirituals, the other three are filled with some of the most incredible guitar work you'll ever hear, bar none. As Huddie (pronounced Hyoo-dee) himself explains to the listener, he learned guitar "sittin' by the bass-side of the piana" in honky-tonks on Shreveport, Louisiana's Fannin Street. Therefore his aggressive 12-string guitar style is informed by a rollicking boogie-woogie barrelhouse/ragtime feel, that often sounds like several guitarists at once. This is best exemplified in his own ode to Fannin Street, "Cry For Me", and the rag "Easy, Mr. Tom", which has enjoyed many permutations, "Hot Dog" by Blind Lemon Jefferson and "Cannonball Rag" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band among them. As Leadbelly comments as the tune ends, "It's so easy when you know how.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 11, 2000
Format: Audio CD
(4 CDs: 64'/60'/63'/64') I entirely agree that this is indeed essential Lead Belly. However, I would point out to the unwary buyer that these are not commercial studio takes; they were recorded by Frederic Ramsey Jr. in his home, in a room set up as a makeshift studio. Sound is not a problem, but the CDs contain some talk - not only Lead Belly's introductions to the songs, as he frequently gave on his recordings, but there is also some lengthier discussion, including with the other people in the room. In addition, several "songs" are mere fragments. All this is invaluable to any serious folk music fan, but on the other hand it can be quite distracting for casual listening. These are CDs that you will want to play in order to study them...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By pressurerising on July 12, 2011
Format: Audio CD
Intimate, relaxed and informal, this is a 60-year old Leadbelly running through his vast repertoire and having a real ball in the process. True, not all the performances are complete songs, the first disc is unaccompanied singing, and there's plenty of the between-song chat that formed part of Leadbelly's act. But when he gets going on the guitar, with that voice, time just stands still. Nothing else like it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By L. J. Parish on March 8, 2013
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I bought the original LP's about 50 years ago and retired them with my 33 1/3
turntable. How wonderful to re-hear these songs which never appear in any
other collections
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