Since Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba had appeared together in concert frequently in the early '60s, customers spying an LP called An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba might reasonably have assumed that the record would contain a joint live performance by the two, and that might help explain why this album charted in the Top 100 despite its challenging material. To begin with, it is not a live album, but rather a studio recording. And it isn't so much a duo album, for the most part, as a joint album; Belafonte and Makeba perform together on only two tracks, "Train Song" and "Cannon." Otherwise, they split up the selections, each appearing on five.
Belafonte was an established all-around entertainer and actor by the time of this album, so it could be seen in a sense as a return to "roots" styles. In any case, it's all-out calypso, with backing by the Trinidad Steel Band, and qualifies as one of his most energetic albums, even getting rambunctious at times.
Harry Belafonte's first album features a solid variety of songs from American folk tradition, learned during his studies of folk music at the Library of Congress in the early 1950s. He had signed with RCA Victor in 1952, recording a series of well-received singles. Belafonte's new-found love for music of the West Indies can be found in songs such as "Man Piaba" (which he wrote) along with songs from English and Scottish tradition such as "Lord Randall" and "The Drummer & the Cook." Songs from African-American tradition include the chain gang song "Tol' My Captain" and the ubiquitous "John Henry." Mark Twain was a good initial effort, but Belafonte's repertoire and delivery would get stronger with the next album.