Album Reviews

Monster Mike Welch & Mike Ledbetter

Right Place, Right Time

Artist:     Monster Mike Welch & Mike Ledbetter

Album:     Right Place, Right Time

Label:     Delta Groove

Release Date:     04.21.2017

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Mike Welch was dubbed “Monster Mike” at age 13 by Dan Aykroyd, which means Welch has been blazing away on his guitar for 24 years now. At only 37, he’s still one of the youngest pure players we have, taking his rightful place alongside New England mentors Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl. And, as you probably know, he’s a key ingredient for the region’s long-running Sugar Ray and the Bluetones. Mike has done six solo albums as well and played with a host of folks. Yet, this may well be his finest guitar statement. He thinks so, “Bigger than my expectations….probably the best music I ever made.”

Mike Ledbetter has delivered exceptional vocals for the Nick Moss Band, revealed his powerful voice again on Ronnie Earl’s Father’s Day and earned a reputation for being one of today’s best blues vocalists. As a trained opera singer and one who has sung in every conceivable genre, Ledbetter channels his range, intonation and phrasing into what he feels is the most emotional music, the blues.

So, the question is obviously, How did these two meet up and what prompted this recording? Blues fans will associate the title with an Otis Rush song and it was the Welch-Ledbetter performance at the 2016 Chicago Blues Festival tribute to Rush that was the catalyst for this collaboration. According to Dick Shurman in the liners, “After [they] blew the roof off, I told both Mikes, ‘You know you guys need to record some of this.’”

As Welch observes, “The blues guitar tradition is about playing like a singer, and from the first time I heard Mike, I knew he was the kind of singer I’ve always been trying to play like. His experience and training gives him otherworldly precision but the way he tells the story comes from someplace deep inside him.” Ledbetter counters, “The way we played off each other was beautiful to me. When it comes to intensity, we are at the exact same speed as singer and player. In addition, my vocal lines, tone, and vibrato are VERY similar to his guitar playing. Everything just fit perfectly.”

Welch and Ledbetter, through a mix of covers and originals, definitely capture that West Side Soul feeling of Rush, Magic Sam, and so many of the Chicago greats. They brought aboard the stunning guitarist, Laura Chavez (from the late Candye Kane’s band) for guest spots on four tracks. She is up to the task. Ledbetter says, “a complete contrast between the players with equal intensity.” Anthony Geraci, Welch’s bandmate in the Bluetones is on keys and in-demand bassist Ronnie James Weber along with veteran New England musicians round out the sound: Marty Richards (drums), Doug James (baritone and tenor sax) and Sax Gordon (tenor sax).

From beginning to end, this is a scorcher but if you need to sample first, you probably want to hear the dueling guitar tracks, “Kay Marie,” “How Long Can This Go On,” “Big Mama,” and “Brewster Avenue Bump.” Also noteworthy, given our political climate is the Welch penned “I’m Gonna Move to Another Country.” Welch’s most inspired, string bending tune is Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Stop Baby” and the sheer range and glory of Ledbetter’s vocal is best exemplified in “Down Home Girl.”

When you think of Chicago blues partnerships, not many come to mind other than Buddy Guy and Junior Wells although, ironically we also have today John Primer and Bob Corritore{link}. Welch and Ledbetter may never reach the Guy-Wells status but they are young enough and powerful enough together to make their own lasting impact. This is a resounding start.

—Jim Hynes

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