I’ll be honest. I’m not really too into tribute albums. I mean, they usually have their high points but when you take them as a whole they tend to feel mailed in or uninspired.
Such is not the case with this particular tribute album, and while I am sure there have been no shortage of tribute albums to Hank Sr. or Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, I am sure there hasn’t ever been one quite like this. For one, check out the take no prisoner’s, my way or fuck you contributing artists. With acts like Scott H. Biram, Possessed By Paul James, Bob Log III, Jawbone, Wayne “The Train” Hancock and Soda taking part you know these aren’t just gonna be mere remakes of classics. For another thing, take the folks putting it out- Hillgrass Bluebilly Entertainment. In what dealings I have had with these guys two things are for sure. They have as much passion about the whole punkass/deep blues scene as anyone, and if they are gonna do something they are gonna do it 100% all out. Taking all of that into account I had a hard time imagining how this particular tribute album couldn’t be awesome.
I was right.
Hiram and Huddie is a double cd tribute album, one disc being a tribute to Hank Sr. while the other is a tribute to Huddie Ledbetter. Both discs feature the same lineup of artists for the most part with each artist seeming to have been given complete freedom to do whatever they wanted with their tracks, and the bands used that freedom to make the tracks their own. Really, there isn’t a track to be skipped across either disc, but as with any compilation some tracks just stand out from the others.
Soda’s cover of Hank’s “Ramblin’ Man” is one such case. Sounding like it would have come from a drunken 1920’s New Orleans speakeasy, this track just begs for you hit repeat until the ink wears off the button. Scott Biram just seems like he was born to sing Sr.’s songs, and the soul of William Elliot Whitmore’s voice adds a richness to his songs that recording techniques in the original version’s time couldn’t capture. As good as all of these tracks are though, it’s Possessed By Paul James’ contributions that totally steal the show and his version of Lead Belly’s “The Bourgeois Blues” wears the “best song” crown.
“The Bourgeois Blues” was originally recorded by Ledbetter after he went to Washington, D.C. at the request of Alan Lomax to record a number of songs for the Library of Congress. After they had finished, they decided to go out with their wives to celebrate but were thrown out of numerous establishments for being an interracial party. The song rails against racism, classism, and discrimination in general.
It would be a shame for this album to get lost in the cracks only be rediscovered years later as a lost gem. Do yourself, Hillgrass Bluebilly, me and every single artist on this album a favor and buy it. Buy two. It’s that good. It’s easily gonna be the best compilation of the year.