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Midnight Special: The Library of Congress Recordings, Vol. 1

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Here are the mesmerizing performances that Alan and John Lomax captured upon visiting Leadbelly in Angola Penitentiary in 1934. His powerful voice soars over his effortless guitar playing as you hear these crucial early cuts: Goodnight Irene; Midnight Special; Careless Love; Red River; Ella Speed; Match Box Blues; Take a Whiff on Me; Roberta , and more!

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The first title in the three-volume Library of Congress Recordings series of the titanic singer and 12-string guitarist, Midnight Special consists of recordings that date back to 1934. By then, the much-traveled, oft-jailed Huddie Leadbetter had assembled a repertoire that was laden with what would become signature Leadbelly tunes. Featured on this 15-track anthology are a couple of his most famous songs, including "Irene" (here presented in two versions) and "Midnight Special." The autobiographical "Governor O.K. Allen" (about the singer's plea for a pardon), the cocaine-inspired "Take a Whiff on Me," and the ballad "Careless Love" add to the appeal of this touchstone set. If you're interested in laying the groundwork of a Leadbelly collection, this is as good a place to start as any. --Steven Stolder
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 3, 1998)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Rounder Records
  • ASIN: B0000002R1
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #146,740 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By A Customer on February 2, 2004
Format: Audio CD
As a previous reviewer noted, these recordings were made while Leadbelly was still in prison (hence the plea to Governor O.K. Allen to set him free). Probably for this reason, the frequently emotionless (in other contexts) Leadbelly delivers his most heartfelt performances, waxing for John Lomax definitive versions of Midnight Special, Irene and Frankie and Albert (not just for him but for anyone, though Bob Dylan laid down a damn fine version of Frankie and Albert on Good as I Been to You in 1992). The rest of the tracks also are first-rate. Even though presumably out of practice, Leadbelly nevertheless accompanys his powerful vocals with excellent (and distinctive) percussive guitar work (with a bit of slide thrown in). If you are not used to Library of Congress recordings (or any pre-World War II recordings, for that matter), be warned that the sound quality is not up to today's standards. That aside, I think this is one of the best pre-war blues CDs I own, and I own quite a few. (Volume 2 - Gwine Dig a Hole to Put the Devil In - is almost as good, as are the other Rounder releases.)
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By A Customer on September 5, 2000
Format: Audio CD
What makes this CD special are the songs that were recorded while Leadbelly was still in Angola State Prison. Some white-boy from the north came down with his equipment. At first Leadbelly balked, but finally jammed out some tunes. They were done as he sat there in shackles and you can actually hear the prison bloodhounds welping in the background. This setting pumped Leadbelly to put out what I consider to be the greatest versions of those tunes available today. The heart never soars as high and free as when it is being held down tight with shackles and these versions illustrate that. Get this!
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Format: Audio CD
The first I ever heard of LeadBelly was on an album "Essential Pete Seeger." Whenever I hear Lead Belly sing "Goodnight Irene," or "Matchbox Blues." or "Frankie and Albert," He reminds me of the Weavers. I like the story about how the "Borgeoius Blues," came to birth. That is my favorite Leadbelly song. I've never heard him sing it, But I have heard other artists perform it. I personally don't have any of his other albums. But I'd strongly reccomend it to those who don't know about LeadBelly. I imaging that Leadbelly's fans wont need any encouragement. For anyone who doesn't know, The story of the "Borgeoius Blues came to Pass when Leadbelly was in Washington recording music for the Library of Congress, where my dad used to work. Leadbelly and his family were expelled from a boarding house because they were African-American. Another folk singer who was with him said. LeadBelly, don't worry, Washington is nothing but a Borgeouis Town.
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Excellent album
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This album contains important recordings of Huddie Ledbetter made by Alan Lomax under the aegis of the Library of Congress between 1934 and 1942. The performances are powerful and their influence on the Folk Music Revival of the 1950s and 1960s was huge. The album notes do a good job of placing Leadbelly and his songs in context.

You have to look closely at the notes to discover this is the first of three volumes of Lead Belly's LOC recordings released by Rounder Records in 1991. (The XII on the cover is just a graphic reference to midnight.)

Those like myself who buy this CD expecting a reissue of the wonderful 78 rpm album of Lead Belly singing with the Golden Gate Quartet (ca. 1950), also titled "Midnight Special," will be disappointed.
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