Big Legal Mess Records – 2015
Junior Kimbrough. R.L. Burnside. T-Model Ford.
Even though I have never been officially recognized as president of the Fat Possum Records’ Fan Club, I respectfully submit another entry into the Holy Trinity of bluesmen that have made the legendary outfit from Oxford, Mississippi into one of the most important and essential record labels in the modern blues era.
Leo Bud Welch.
The 82-year-old Welch is cut every bit from the same weathered and tattered fabric that made the late Kimbrough, Burnside and Ford such must-hear-to-fully-comprehend bluesmen. It only takes a few seconds into Welch’s second disc – I Don’t Prefer No Blues (Big Legal Mess Records, a subsidiary of Fat Possum Records) to understand that this cat is the real deal. Sid Vicious, Johnny Thunders and Joey Ramone may get the lion’s share of ink for being influential punk rockers, but those dudes can’t hold a candle to Kimbrough, Burnside, Ford and Welch, who were all ‘punk’ long before birth was ever given to the term in a musical context. Kimbrough, Burnside and Ford did things for themselves, they way they wanted them – and if you liked it, great; if you didn’t, that’s just tough. And Welch is continuing on in that tradition.
Where his first CD – last year’s Sabougla Voices – was a largely gospel affair (although it was certainly filtered through the gutbucket rattle-and-clang normally associated with Hill Country blues), this new one is straight-up blues. Welch is a tactician just like Kimbrough, Burnside and Ford, and has his own special way of coaxing a warped racket out of his guitar, which he does in a very guttural and buzzy, but yet beautiful, way. He hollers, stomps, shouts, moans and plays the ever-loving heck out of his eye-catching sparkly, pinkish guitar on the album’s 10 cuts. Opening with Welch’s version of the classic tune “Poor Boy” (where he is capably joined by Jimbo Mathus and Sharde Thomas – Hill County icons in their own right), I Don’t Prefer No Blues goes from zero to 60 in no-time flat and never once threatens to slow down or let up the pace. By the time “Sweet Black Angel” closes the disc, it’s easy to realize that you’ve just listened to something very special, indeed. Something that easily fits alongside All Night Long (Kimbrough), Too Bad Jim (Burnside) and Pee Wee Get My Gun (Ford) as messy, punky, raw and truly essential blues offerings from the Fat Possum family.
Up until Sabougla Voices came out, Welch had pretty much limited himself to playing gospel and spiritual tunes for the previous five decades. That all changes on I Don’t Prefer No Blues (which is what Welch’s preacher said when he learned he was cutting a blues album). These are blues in the first degree, served up hearty and healthy, straight out of Bruce, Mississippi.
Special props go out to Bruce Watson, who was not only a guiding force in the lives and careers of Kimbrough, Burnside and Ford, but who also owns Big Legal Mess and produced I Don’t Prefer No Blues. It’s obvious that Watson has long known his way around the terrain and sometimes unpredictable back-roads of blues in the nether-regions of the Mississippi Hill Country. But instead of looking for the next B.B. King or even Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Watson somehow manages to pull cats like Leo Bud Welch out into the bright sunlight of day.
And for that, Mr. Watson, we are eternally grateful.