Delta Groove Records DGPCD176
12 songs — 51 minutes
Producers of the Chicago Blues Festival probably didn’t have any idea what they were about to create when they invited Monster Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter to participate in a 2016 tribute to Windy City guitar legend Otis Rush. But sparks from the first notes of that show set off fireworks that could change the future of the blues for decades to come.
The instantaneous chemistry between Welch — the beloved former child prodigy guitarist from Boston who’s been part of Sugar Ray Norcia’s Bluetones for about 25 years — and Ledbetter — the melismatic former opera singer who’s received his training in the blues as a vital part of the Nick Moss Band for the past seven years — overwhelmed both of the participants as they played to an overflow audience with Rush himself nodding in appreciation from the front row.
Now approaching 40, Welch has been an international star and recording artist in his own right since his early teens, and is one of the most stylish and in-demand guitar players on the planet, influenced heavily by Rush, Magic Sam, Earl Hooker, Albert and B.B. King and having recorded with Johnny Winter, The Mannish Boys, Kilborn Alley and a host of others.
Now in his early 30s, meanwhile, Ledbetter quickly developed into a blues powerhouse himself both as a soul-blues vocalist and guitarist after hooking up with Moss after a jam. His incredible voice — which actually bears a great similarity to Seals’ — is a true crowd-pleaser. This is his first release as a headliner, although his vocals were featured prominently on Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters’ 2015 album, Father’s Day.
Welch and Ledbetter would have had no trouble recording a CD on their own, but they called out an all-star lineup to assist them on Right Place, Right Time. Produced by Welch and recorded in Quincy, Mass., and Oceanside, Calif., it features Bluetones’ keyboard player Anthony Geraci, drummer Marty Richards (Duke Robillard, Joe Perry, Peter Wolf) and bassist Ronnie James Weber (Moss, James Cotton, Little Charlie & The Nightcats) as well as New England-based horn powerhouses Sax Gordon and Doug James. Making a guest appearance on four cuts is the dynamic Laura Chavez, longtime guitarist with Candye Kane. Kit Holliday and Welch’s wife, Jeannette Ocampo, provide backing vocals on one cut.
The partners wrote five of the 12 songs on this one, but make each cover their own. The set opens with “Cry For Me Baby,” the Mel London-penned hit for Junior Wells. From the brief instrumental intro you know from the jump that you’re in for a major dose of old-school blues delivered by a duo who know what they’re doing. Welch’s single-note riffs on the fretboard cut like a laser as Ledbetter’s voice soars. They follow it up with “I Can’t Please You,” written by ’60s soul singer Jimmy Robins, before delivering the Ledbetter original “Kay Marie.” It’s a medium-tempo pleaser in which the singer has to find the title lady to keep himself from crying, and it fits like hand-in-glove to the preceding material.
Three more covers — Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Stop Baby,” The Coasters’ classic “Down Home Girl” and Junior Parker’s “How Long Can This Go On” — all get new leases on life before a trio of originals. Welch rips and runs to introduce Ledbetter’s “Big Mama” — about a sweet lady who knows what she needs — before delivering his own “I’m Gonna Move To Another Country,” a searing slow-blues showcase for his guitar skills as the younger Mike soars vocally as he describes the difficulty of making a living in America today.
Ledbetter’s “Can’t Sit Down” follows before two more covers, Tampa Red’s “Cryin’ Won’t Help You” and Elmore James’ “Goodbye Baby.” Welch’s instrumental original, “Brewster Avenue Bump,” brings the album to a close.
A 2017 Blues Blast Awards nominee for Contemporary Album, Right Place, Right Time doesn’t miss a beat as it establishes the Welch-Ledbetter partnership at the pinnacle of the blues world today. Welch remains with the Bluetones, while Ledbetter’s now graduated from Moss and fronts his own band. But don’t miss them in performance when they tour together as a new supergroup — and pick this one up today. You won’t be disappointed. The blues will be in good hands as long as these two are on the scene.