Leadbelly's official discography is pretty confusing, a mixture of live radio shows, field recordings for Alan Lomax, one-off studio sessions for small labels, casual sessions for Moses Asch, more professionally supervised sessions for Columbia Records, a handful of early 78s, and the occasional recorded live set from a college or coffee house performance. The licensing for some of these recordings has been sold time and time again, leading to countless collections that feature roughly the same songs and poor to zero annotation. The miracle in all of this is the remarkable consistency of what Leadbelly recorded, and his body of work -- scattered and disorganized as it is -- is a valuable archive of early 19th century American work songs, lining chants, blues pieces, children's melodies and all manner of folk material. This set from Tradition includes the recordings Leadbelly did in New York City in 1939 for Musicraft Records, a session set up by Lomax to help pay for Leadbelly's legal bills (he was awaiting trial on an assault charge at the time and was later sentenced to eight months incarceration). The Musicraft material was eventually released on Stinson Records, and several times since on different labels, including Tradition Records. Also presented here are a scattering of recordings Leadbelly did for Asch in the early '40s, which were in turn leased by Asch to other labels. The sound isn't bad on these tracks, and Legend of Leadbelly: The Tradition Years isn't really a bad buy as long as you know what you're getting (and haven't already bought the same sides on another CD under a different title from a different label with a different photo on the front). ~ Steve Leggett
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