(back) - Kevin McCarthy's Celtic & Folk Music CD Review - This is the second review in as many months where "chance circumstance" raised its bitter-sweet head. This time, just as I was about to listen to the CD, news came through of the death of the great American folklorist, Alan Lomax. And Lomax of course, was the man who, with his father, discovered Huddie Ledbetter (soon to be much better known as 'Leadbelly') in Louisiana State Penitentiary, when they were touring the Southern States seeking to record folk performers for The Library of Congress. And the rest, as they say, is history. Richard Flohil, in his immensely readable liner notes, shows how Leadbelly’s influence was such that his music would even jump continents, and be the cause of a new musical craze in Britain: the "Skiffle" of the 1950s. Leadbelly did not just change the world of MUSIC: he also changed people's LIVES. And one such was a young English kid called John Baldry, born at the start of the most perilous decade in British history. When the British Commonwealth stood alone against the Nazis.

The 14-year-old Baldry heard 2 Leadbelly songs sung by the young Lonnie Donegan, noted the name of the writer, and then sought out his work. Soon he began to master the Leadbelly canon. And before many years, Baldry (now Long John Baldry) had achieved real fame in Britain. The early to mid Sixties were here, and I remember him vividly, seeing as I was only 6 years his junior. Very tall (hence the nickname) and singing what struck me then as being raw and uncompromising stuff. Baldry disappeared from my consciousness. Until now. Where had he been all this time? Well, he had been in Canada, for nearly 30 years! He had built a respectable musical career there. Throughout Remembering Leadbelly, his excellent backing musicians provide sterling service. No dud cuts. Track 11 (We're In The Same Boat Brother) is my pick. Here, his phrasing and breath control prove top-drawer. But best of all are the two "bonus tracks" that occur after a two minute hiatus. We have two that are both around 6 minutes long, and two that are also both GEMS. The second one has LJB recalling the past, and doing so in a beautifully modulated "Oxbridge" English. The kind of English that would get him straight into the Royal Shakespeare Company WITHOUT an audition. An interview from 1993 with Alan Lomax. He must have been in his late 70s then, but sounded a young 39. Especially when he hollered in an approximation of the early Leadbelly singing style. And it occurred to me that the day that I rediscovered Leadbelly (not to mention Long John Baldry too!), I was listening to the man who had discovered Huddie in the first place! And by some strange symmetry, as one ARRIVED, another DEPARTED. And now it is ME who departs this review. If you have never heard Leadbelly, and want to buy a "starter" album, I'll tell you something that might enrage true Leadbelly fans. Buy THIS one. Long John Baldry somehow picks the locks of the songs more quickly than The Master, and you are INSIDE each song BEFORE YOU KNOW IT. Somehow he makes them more accessible, without compromising their integrity. Good to know BALDRY'S alive; good to know the SONGS are alive: and heck, good to be made to feel that THIS REVIEWER TOO, is also very much alive.
-Dai Woosnam, Grimsby, England.
daigress@hotmail.com - www.surfnetusa.com/celtic-folk

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