Friday, April 21, 2017

Monster Mike Welch ~ And ~ Mike Ledbetter ~~ Right Place, Right Time

The other day I was watching a video done by spoken word performer/musician/actor/writer Henry Rollins discussing his philosophy for creating success. One of the items that caught my eye was the simple phrase, “Take your shot.”
If you get lucky enough to get a shot at your dream, or if you manufacture that shot, you must make the most of that opportunity. He gives an example from his life of being the manager of an ice cream store in Washington DC and he attended a performance of his favorite band, Black Flag.
During the performance he got a chance to be on stage and sing with the band. The next day, back at his job scooping ice cream he got a call from the band about coming to an audition to become the lead singer as their current lead singer wanted to concentrate on rhythm guitar. He went to the audition and sang every one of the bands’ songs, mostly with improvised lyrics.
The band voted him in, and he returned to the ice cream store and told his boss what had happened. His boss said, “Is this your shot?”
Rollins replied that it was. His boss then said, “Then you have to take it.”
You might be wondering where I’m going with all this and I’ll be glad to tell you. Back in June of 2016, Monster Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter teamed up for the very first time at a tribute concert to Otis Rush.
By all accounts it was a magical event.
They knew, and so did everyone else, that they had to get together and record an album. They had to take their shot and put out their collaboration and see what happened.
The result is a killer album, Right Pace, Right Time on Delta Groove, that features not only one of the best lead guitarists around, Welch, and one of the best singers, Ledbetter, but also some of their very good and talented friends. They are joined by Anthony Geraci on piano and organ; Ronnie James Weber on bass; and Marty Richards on drums.
Welch recently played guitar for Geraci’s acclaimed album Fifty Shades of Blue.
Special guests include Laura Chavez on guitar; Sax Gordon and Doug James on sax; and backing vocals by Kit Holliday and Jeannette Ocampo Welch.
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating, any project that features Laura Chavez in it will be made infinitely better just by her presence. She is one of the best guitarists playing today and she elevates good performers and makes great ones stellar.
The album starts off with the stinging Cry For Me Baby. Mel London’s tune gets a solid interpretation from Ledbetter’s vocals, Welch’s guitar, and Geraci’s keyboards. It swings straight from the West Coast and it announces quickly that this is an album that you need to take notices of, right now!
The first of four appearances by the Gordon and James is on the next song, I Can’t Please You. Welch’s guitar work on the intro is impeccable and Ledbetter’s vocals are gritty and convey a real depth of emotion.
The first of three songs written by Ledbetter follows. Kay Marie is a rollicking honkytonk number that has a little bit of a Dust My Broom vibe. Ledbetter is not a bad lyricist by any means, and this is a solid song that features the first appearance of Chavez on the record.
The horns are back for Willie Dixon’s I Can’t Stop Baby. This is a wild shouter that would be right at home at just about any Chicago club. Ledbetter and Welch obviously have a deep appreciation for the bluesmen of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s and this homage is not a slavish reproduction, but it pours their heart and soul into the song the same way Muddy, Howling, and so many others did during that time.
The horn section sticks around for the jaunty Down Home Girl. It’s got a bouncy, almost carefree beat that’s fun. Ledbetter’s vocals really make this into a very cool blues song. At the time of its initial release, the song was not a commercial success, but it has since been covered by The Rolling Stones, The Coasters, Taj Mahal, and recently by Old Crow Medicine Show.
Chavez is back for the next couple of songs, starting with Junior Parker’s How Long Can This Go On. The song swings and Welch’s guitar work is very sweet. There are so many good songs on this album it would be hard to pick a favorite, but this one is surely in the running for me. It’s tight and Ledbetter’s vocals are spot on.
Next up is the Ledbetter penned Big Mama, which also features Chavez. She and Welch inspire each other to greater heights and Ledbetter rocks his vocals. It’s a great shouting number and it would feel at home with the great songs of the 50’s and ‘60’s.
Mike Welch takes on some of the major ills that plague America. They make up the story behind his song, I’m Gonna Move To Another Country. His blistering guitar blasts its way into the song for well over a minute before the lyrics kick in. It’s a strong look at the tough situations that face so many in America, feeling so disenfranchised that they have to leave to get a real chance at life. It’s part of a long tradition of addressing issues through popular song and I, for one, always welcome their return.
Ledbetter contributed Can’t Sit Down to the album and this is a fun fast-paced song. Geraci plays some wicked keys on this one and I can just imagine that this song would be a great one to catch live where the band can jam a little bit around the leads.
Next up is a sweet number, Cryin’ Won’t Help You, which features the last appearance of the horn section. B.B. King’s song gets a loving tribute from the group, with Welch throwing in some nice King-like runs.
Elmore James’ Goodbye Baby gets a loving interpretation next. It’s a lovely song that makes incredible use of Ledbetter’s expressive voice. This is the kind of number that could close any blues show and leave the audience knowing they had been in the presence of true artists.
Mike Welch’s instrumental, Brewster Avenue Bump, closes the album. It’s a nice encore for all the great musicians to take one final bow. Welch and Ledbetter open up the spotlight to share it will their core group and the song takes us out on a high note.
I know this was a long review and I thank you for hanging in there with me. Next time I’ll try to be brief, but I’d be lying if I said I would…
This is a fun album with so much to offer every blues lover around the world. You can pick any song from this list and most likely love it. It’s one of those rare albums where I want to play every song on Time For The Blues, and I probably will, but scattered over the next several months. So, if you want to hear it, get yourselves over to the record store, or hit the on-line services and get one.
You won’t be sorry. This one belongs in your collection.
I don’t see a website for either Ledbetter or Chavez, but they have many articles about them floating around the web. You can find out more about Welch at his site: https://monstermikewelch.wordpress.com/ and more about Delta Groove at theirs: http://www.deltagrooveproductions.com/.





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