Michael “Mudcat” Ward – self titled
11 songs, 43 minutes
Michael “Mudcat” Ward is a Blues legend. The Maine born and bred, Boston based bassist has played with a who’s who of Blues royalty. A founding member of Sugar Ray and the Bluetones and Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, Mudcat has added the integral low-end to countless seminal recordings since the late 1970’s. Amongst Sugar Ray and Earl, artists Ward has played with include Muddy Waters, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmie Rogers, Big Walter Horton, Pinetop Perkins, and James Cotton just to name a few. Mudcat is also an elder statesman of the New England Blues and Roots scene, encouraging younger players and continuing to be one of the the driving forces for a still thriving community.
On this his first solo record simply self titled, Mudcat pulled together an assortment of friends, family and colleagues to put together a 10 song all original reflection on a life lived in music. A self described “Covid record” this album was put together in pieces, in isolation throughout 2020-2021. But, the relative separation of the musicians does not hamper the comradely and affection that comes across this labor of love. Mudcat plays bass – both electric and his signature stand up acoustic – throughout while overdubbing vocals, piano, organ and lap steel. Engineer Andy Plaisted locks in the drums with Ward on 7 tracks. Local stalwart and go to Blues/Roots vocalist Dennis Brennen offers his pipes, guitar and harmonica on 2 tracks. The remaining cast of guests all contribute one song each: Ward’s talented guitar playing brother Peter, Boston’s local guitar-god Monster Mike Welch, fellow Boston guitar leader Duke Levine on mandola, the Roots music innovators Eric and Ulrika Bibb heavenly sing, Sugar Ray Norcia blows raw harp, Cajun accordionist Steve Riley, guitar connoisseur Kevin Barry on acoustic nylon-string requinto and vocalist Carrie Johnson.
This collection of music is Roots eclectic, meaning there is a smattering of Gospel, Country, Blues and Folk. Highlights include Dennis Brennen’s contributions “Just Before Forever” and “My Isabelle” both acoustic ballad love songs Ward wrote about his wife. The lilting arpeggiated instrumental “B’s Song” featuring Duke Levine is tender. The slow Blues of “Get Me Out of Here” features Monster Mike Welch’s signature big reverb laden guitar emoting. Topical reflections land nicely in the instrumental “Blues for Parkland” a Sugar Ray spotlight and the the Bibbs’ pipe organ feature “Bless This Earth.”
Mudcat Ward knows the Blues and more broadly has music flowing through him. On his “debut” record (debut feels like the wrong description for a musician who has had a 40 plus year career) Mudcat offers a glimpse into his music, his concept, his approach. Mudcat sings in a warbling spoken word style that is a little inconsistent, but his musicianship is so natural and effortless that the music of this album transcends. For a musician who has spent his career backing up the greats, it is refreshing to hear what happens when he pulls together his “musical family,” as he identifies them in the liner notes, and takes center stage.