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CD REVIEW -- Mike Welch & Mike Ledbetter
GLT blues radio

Monster Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter

Right Place, Right Time

Delta Groove Music

12 tracks

Monster Mike Welch & Mike Ledbetter CD art

by Steve Jones

The 2016 Chicago Blues Festival closed with a huge tribute to Otis Rush that was produced by Dick Shurman.  When I left that show I was truly amazed.  I do not think I have heard a better set of music in my life.  Stars filled the stage like the constellations in the zodiac, but it was the vocal work of Mike Ledbetter and guitar work of Monster Mike Welch that stood out for me.  Apparently Shurman agreed; he planted the seed that led to the recording of this CD and he penned the liner notes in which he calls these guys The Dream Team and compares them to the partnership of Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. I cannot disagree.

Ledbetter had spent eight years with Nick Moss’ band and his vocals have taken the blues world by storm. His appearance on Ronnie Earl’s 2016 CD, Father’s Day, gave me and the blues world chills.  Welch has soloed and played with Sugar Ray and the Bluetones and amazes audiences with his profound and unique guitar style.   

Joining Mike and Mike is Anthony Geraci on piano and organ, another member of the Bluetones.  He and Mike did an album of their own last year that was also super.  The backline of Ronnie James Weber on bass and Marty Richards in drums is solid and impeccable. Laura Chavez, Sax Gordon and Doug James each make appearances on four songs.  They are also spectacular artists and add a lot to this album.

Elmore James’ “Cry for Me Baby” starts things off.  Ledbetter and Welch jump straight into it with energy and drive.  Ledbetter showcases his ample pipes and Welch blazes on the guitar.  Geraci’s piano is also up to the task as he delivers an inspired performance, too.  He and Welch trade licks with great aplomb.  Ledbetter howls and moans in this swinging cut.  Jimmy Robins’ “I Can’t Please You” is next.  Welch opens with a thoughtful intro and then Ledbetter begins the vocal journey.  Welch applies the same restraint in his solo.  Sax Gordon is featured here on tenor for the first of four times along with Doug James on sax.  Geraci adds his touch on organ to fill in sweetly.  Ledbetter builds his vocals throughout in this great cover. 

The first original is a Ledbetter tune entitled “Kay Marie” where he gives another inspired performance.  Geraci gets the first solo on piano, which is great, but then Welch offers up a guitar monster solo and kills it; and then guest guitarist Laura Chavez does the same as the song goes out. The Willie Dixon cut “I Can’t Stop Baby” is Ledbetter working in the realm of Otis Rush with high pitched vocals and a very cool cover of this classic Otis song.  The vocals here are pristinely cool and powerful.  Welch’s guitar solo is thoughtful; this cut really reminds me of what they did at the 2016 Chicago Blues Fest -- outstanding performances that amazed the huge crowd.  This track is major league with astounding vocals and guitar, not to mention tasty horns and keys adding to the mix; this song alone is worth the price of the CD as it simply gave me goose bumps!

Classic Jerry Leiber is next with “Down Home Girl,” a song first recorded by Alvin Robinson and covered many times by the likes of the Rolling Stones and Taj Mahal.  Ledbetter approaches this with sass and grit.  He and Welch do this one justice and the horns plays well with the other boys.  Geraci’s piano is also nicely done.  Junior Parker’s “How Long Can This Go On” was also big as an Earl Hooker instrumental; the boys make it over big time with Ledbetter taking the vocals over the top and Welch and Chavez handling the solos like the outstanding pros that they are. Both are spectacular. The sax played a big role in both the Parker original and Hooker instrumental; here we have both Welch and Chavez using their skills on the six string to amaze us.

Ledbetter’s second original is “Big Mama,” a beautiful mid-tempo blues ballad that hearkens to the old days.  Ledbetter blows the vocals away with his operatically trained voice.  Welch and Chavez again take their guitars to stratospheric levels. Mike Welch also wrote two songs, the first being: “I’m Gonna Move to Another Country.” There is a big intro by Welch and then Ledbetter wails the slow blues tune as Geraci’s organ backs them sublimely.  Welch delivers lots of great “Monster” guitar soloing and Ledbetter’s vocals are equally emotive. Fantastic!

The third and final Michael Ledbetter tune is “Can’t Sit Down,” a classic sound with vocals, guitar and piano reminding us of the old days with Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery and others playing the piano behind the Chicago greats.  Geraci gets a big solo and he was certainly up to it, showcasing his skills for us; Welch follows with his own big solo.  Ledbetter offers some more impassioned vocals for us -- just great stuff all around!

 “Cryin’ Won’t Help You” is an old B.B. King song.  Here, the saxes make their final appearance with a very subdued presence.  Geraci’s piano takes a prominent place, but it’s Welch taking on the big hollow guitar and Ledbetter on vocals that steal the show here, making it their own.  Elmore James’ “Goodbye Baby” comes up next.  Ledbetter is again forthright in his approach.  Kit Holliday and Jeannette Ocampo Welch offer some backing vocals to round things out.  Welch’s guitar resonates and stings when it’s his turn to showcase his chops.  Overall, it’s a powerful cut.  Welch’s second tune concludes the album; “Brewster Avenue Bump” is a well done instrumental with guitars playing off of each other and a driving, intense overall sound. It’s a fine way to end an excellent CD. 

Why waste words?  This is the best album I’ve heard in a long time.  The two Mikes work off each other as if they have been playing together for decades.  They are truly special and this album is equally truly special.  They respect the traditions of the blues and take the genre to new and brighter highs.  This is something that needs to be in everyone’s CD cabinet like many of the classic and seminal blues recordings over the decades. People will be talking about this one for a long time and those who were lucky enough to have seen them at the Chicago Blues fest last year will never forget what they saw and heard.  This CD captures some of the energy and stellar work from that night and preserves it for listeners.  Run, do not walk, to get this CD.  You will be listening to it for a long time.  Kudos to Dick Shurman, Delta Groove Music and especially to Mike Ledbetter and Monster Mike Welch for this amazing album!

For info or to buy the CD:

About the author: Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois in Byron/Rockford.


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