CD: 16 Songs; 54:52 Minutes
Styles: Tribute Albums, Blues Covers, Traditional Blues
“What I hear now, when I listen to Lead Belly’s recordings and YouTube clips, and what I must have sensed when I was a boy, is the man’s personal power and independence. His sound made it clear that he was his own man. The fatalism and resignation that I heard later in the voices of many of my prewar blues heroes was missing in Lead Belly. He was way ahead of his time.” So explains NYC’s Eric Bibb in the liner notes of his new tribute album, co-performed with Paris’ Jean-Jacques “J.J.” Milteau. Lead Belly’s Gold contains sixteen tracks: thirteen covers of songs Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter recorded, and three original songs written by Bibb and Milteau in homage to their blues champion. This is a CD worthy of any reference-quality collection. Aside from a few tarnished tracks, such as a muted rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” and drowsy “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”, these two modern blues masters have struck the mother lode. Their salute to Lead Belly should stand alongside an album of his original hits.
Playing alongside Bibb and Milteau are Larry Crockett on drums and percussion; Big Daddy Wilson and Michael Robinson on background vocals; Gilles Michel on bass; Glen Scott on drums, bass and Wurlitzer; and Michael Jerome Browne on 12-string guitar and mandolin. Bibb himself performs on vocals, guitars and banjo, with his colleague J.J. Milteau on harmonica.
Yours truly considers the following three songs the shiniest pieces of Lead Belly’s Gold. The first two listed below are live recordings, and covers of some of Huddie Ledbetter’s best. The other one is a studio song written by Bibb and Milteau, concerning their idol’s life.
Track 05: “Midnight Special” – Prison rumor has it that when the “Midnight Special” – a train seen from one’s barred window – shines its spotlight upon you, you’ll be getting out soon. That’s why Lead Belly’s blues classic is a song about hope and regret all the same. “When you get up in the morning, you hear the big bell ring. You go a-marching to the table. It’s the same damn thing. Back and forth on the table – there’s nothing in my pan. If you say anything about it, you’re in trouble with The Man. Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me…” Gilles Michel plays skillful bass here, and J.J. Milteau’s Zydeco harp is awesome!
Track 12: “Bourgeois Blues” – Penned by Lead Belly in 1938, this bold ballad condemns racial segregation in our nation’s capital. “Well, the white folks in Washington sure know how to call a colored man a [N-word] just to see him bow, Lord, in a bourgeois town…” The more things change, the more they stay the same. The catchy bass refrain has a tongue-in-cheek bounce.
Track 13: “Chauffeur Blues” – According to the liner notes, this song is written from Lead Belly’s point of view, as he sings to his former boss John Lomax from the afterlife: “Once upon a time, I drove you here and there, anywhere you wanted to be. Next time around, gonna turn it upside-down. Next time, you’ll be driving me!” Eric Bibb’s guitar drives this hard point home.
Traditional blues fans, grab yourself a potful of Lead Belly’s Gold!