Although the blues and gospel are classified as different kinds of music genres, they aren't mutually exclusive, and like every other kind of vernacular American music, there has always been a lot of cross-pollination going on, and since musicians are musicians, playing secular music in a jook on Saturday night isn't substantially different than taking the same set of riffs into church on Sunday morning, with different lyrics, of course. And even that isn't all that difficult, since singing about loss and singing about redemption are really two sides of the same coin, a part of the same conversation. Leo Welch understands this, and he's had to. Born and raised in Sabougla in the hill country of Mississippi, Welch worked over 30 years in the region's logging camps, spending his nights and days off playing picnics, house parties, and jook joints, developing a raw and urgent electric guitar style that put him in a long line of Mississippi trance guitarists that included R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. When the blues gigs began to get rarer in the mid-'70s, Welch simply packed up his approach and blues prowess and took them to the churches, developing a style that combined the grit and dirt of Mississippi blues guitar with the passionate urgency of Southern call-and-response gospel, which puts him squarely in the lineage of another great gospel guitarist, Mississippi Fred McDowell. This debut set, released when Welch was 82, is pretty much his church set done up straight with no frills in a recording studio, and it's a stunning and fiery thing to hear. From the relentless opener, "Praise His Name," this is an album of redemptive gospel blues that crackles with urgency, passion, and relentless energy. Welch is no traditionalist, and he has stated that he doesn't have a divisive mind when it comes to either the blues or gospel, enjoying both, and whether one sings about mortal love or God, it's all about longing. This is a marvelous album, a revelation, even, with striking electric stomps like "Somebody Touched Me," which sounds a bit like a raw garage band doing a slowed-down gospel version of Chuck Berry, and delicately balanced acoustic numbers like "Mother Loves Her Children" and "The Lord Will Make a Way" showing that Welch has found a way to make the blues and gospel speak together in one voice.
|Label:||Fat Possum Records|