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Lead Belly Gets Smithsonian Folkways Moment with New 5-CD and Coffee Table Book Collection

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Feb 27, 2015 10:01 PM EST

Huddie Ledbetter, more commonly known as "Lead Belly," is having a Smithsonian Folkways moment for his latest tribute: Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection. An anthology and coffee-table book that broadly chronicles Belly's career, it's essential to folk fans of any stripe.

Discovered by John and Alan Lomax in 1933, Lead Belly was serving a time in prison in Louisiana. Belly was a busking Louisiana street singer with an interesting repertoire. He performed professionally from 1934 until his death and has been a major inspiration to the likes of Bob Dylan and beyond.

"Goodnight, Irene," "The Midnight Special" and "Pick a Bale of Cotton" are all works popularized by the heavyweight. His recordings also exist in the Library of Congress, alongside other legends like Muddy Waters and Woody Guthrie.

A massive figure in the world of music, he has been the subject of much adulation and praise over the years. There was never a time in his career that he was anyone but himself.

Thus, the new anthology, Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, is a new LP-size 5-CD set and coffee table book not to take lightly. The set chronicles the cornerstones of Belly's career, revisiting his Library of Congress recordings, records he made for Moe Asch, his appearances on New York radio, and more.

There's also quality photos and images of memorabilia that aid in the telling of the musician's life story.

As The Wall Street Journal writes:

"Cutting through all of the positioning and posturing, towering over them, was Lead Belly's own forceful, still spine-tingling vocal shouts, which would have stood him well in the electric blues era ahead and do now, and his accompanying acoustic 12-string guitar attack, which got him the volume he wanted. There are not a great many quiet, tender, subtle numbers in this repertoire (the brief kind-of-cute outlier "Come and Sit Down Beside Me" being an exception to that rule), but this is a singer who found a rich variety of ways to bear down hard."

From Nirvana to the Weavers to Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lead Belly is a hallmark of music as a whole and the new set is an excellent way to discover — or rediscover — an artist who truly has his hand on the pulse of a timeless musical generation.

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TagsLead Belly, Smithsonian Folkways Collection, Goodnight Irene, Bob Dylan, John Lomax, Alan Lomax, Library of Congress, Woody Guthrie, Hudde Ledbetter, Moe Asch