Blast from the Past

Bridging Lead Belly is a new release of recently discovered songs

Lead Belly was born Huddie William Ledbetter in 1889 in northern Louisiana near the Texas border. Following his release from a Texas prison for murder -- literally singing his way out -- Lead Belly spent his first year of freedom in Houston, singing in Third Ward clubs and working for a local Buick dealership. He moved back to Louisiana in 1926 and shot another man in 1928. He pleaded self-defense and was not charged.

A ruckus at a party one night led Lead Belly to jail again in 1930. He was arrested and convicted of assault with intent to commit murder and was sentenced to 30 years in the state penitentiary in Angola. Again, Lead Belly sang himself free. This time to Governor O.K. Allen. The song, "Governor O.K. Allen," is included on Bridging.

The CD itself is packaged handsomely, and the liner notes are extensive and detailed yet absurdly academic. "Old Riley," reads the description in the notes, is "a song of hope and inspiration in that a man overcame the travails imposed by nature, and represented by fierce summer heat, a relentless bloodhound, and a turkey." Whoa! Back up, buck. That is some pretty deep stuff there.

Lead Belly was not that overtly sentimental, or political, though many special interests tried to claim him as their own once he made the New York hipster circuit in the 1940s. All the man knew, or really cared about, was a good melody and a happy audience.

And a nice profile shot.

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