As readers of this magazine will be aware, Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter was a giant among American songwriters pre-WWII. Tagged as ‘blues’ – he was black, from Texas and lived an extremely violent life – his songs rarely engage with the 12-bar blues tradition, working more as singalong ballads, which is why they were so popular with folk revival artists in the 50s and 60s.
They also suit Eric Bibb far more than conventional Delta blues. Some find Bibb’s albums too smooth, but here he sounds like Lead Belly’s rage galvanised him. Bibb (guitar, voice) sings with a real fervour and the interplay between him and harmonica player Milteau on these songs – both live and studio – is dynamic, with Bourgeois Blues a triumph. The Bibb originals – written to mimic Lead Belly – less so (but there are only three). Overall, a very impressive tribute.