Last week, we told you about the latest collaboration between blues guitarist John Primer and harmonica player Bob Corritore, a splendid little project from Delta Groove Music called Ain’t Nothing You Can Do! While those two blues veterans have the advantage of having worked and played together on several occasions, including a previous release in 2013’s Knockin’ Around These Blues, the friendship between this next pair of collaborators is a much more recent one, starting with a shared number during last summer’s Chicago Blues Festival tribute to legendary blues guitarist Otis Rush.
It was here that guitarist Monster Mike Welch (Sugar Ray and the Bluetones) and vocalist and Lead Belly descendant Mike Ledbetter (Nick Moss Band) delivered their first soulful performance together in the form of Rush’s “Right Place, Wrong Time”, and for those in attendance or who have since seen the video of that song (which can you watch below), it was clear that there was a rare bit of chemistry here. Although that particular number curiously wasn’t revisited on this resulting collaboration between Welch and Ledbetter, the soundtrack to their initial encounter obviously hasn’t been forgotten, serving as the inspiration for the title of what we hope is just the first of many studio projects between the two, in Right Place, Right Time, another gem from the good folks at Delta Groove Music.
The album does, however, include a cover of another Rush tune, in the tough, slow blues of “I Can’t Stop Baby” — essentially a Willie Dixon reworking of his “I Can’t Quit You Baby” with a different set of lyrics — that shows the full range of Ledbetter’s voice, lacing the deep grinding delivery of lyrics like “I’d rather eat deadly poison, baby/ I’d rather jump from the Empire State/ than to think about some other man/ snorin’ in my baby’s face” with passionate falsetto croons, as well as a somewhat Rush-sounding Ledbetter original in “Can’t Sit Down”.
Produced by Welch, the album features an even dozen delightful tracks, every one of them soulful. After jumping right in on the swinging uptempo soul of an opening “Cry For Me Baby” (Elmore James) that includes some particularly lively piano from Welch’s Bluetones bandmate Anthony Geraci, the pair moves to the swaying classic soul sounds and passionate vocals of a horns-accented “I Can’t Please You” (Jimmy Robins) and the first of the album’s five originals in Ledbetter’s “Kay Marie”, a smoking Chuck Berry-style slow rocker that again features some nice work from Geraci and also adds guitarist Laura Chavez (Candye Kane) to the mix.
Also included are the funky, sliding grooves of a Jerry Leiber and Artie Butler-written “Down Home Girl” (Alvin Robinson, The Rolling Stones, Taj Mahal) with its Albert King-like guitar licks and such smooth lyrics as “And every time that you move like that, I got to go to Sunday Mass”, a groovy, uptempo shuffling take on Junior Parker’s “How Long Can This Go On”, and another Ledbetter-penned track featuring Chavez on guitar in the strong and steady “Big Mama” before the band arrives at the simmering Welch-authored “I’m Gonna Move to Another Country” with its blistering guitar work and that, believe it or not, was written long before Trump was elected President, having originally appeared on Welch’s 2007 Just Like It Is album, but made all the better through Ledbetter’s vocals.
A slick, swaying take on Tampa Red’s “Cryin’ Won’t Help You” is another terrific track, with its passionate, sometimes falsetto vocals, gritty guitar, and juicy horns, followed by the soulful, creeping country-blues twang of Elmore James’ “Goodbye Baby” and the groovy, closing instrumental “Brewster Avenue Bump” featuring Ledbetter on rhythm guitar, Chavez on guitar, and some nice work on keys from Geraci.
Havng earned his “Monster” nickname from Dan Aykroyd as a youngster, Welch’s often stinging playing will thrill fans of blues guitarists such as Rush, Albert and B.B. King, and Ronnie Earl. Together with Ledbetter, whose musical résumé also includes a number of years in opera, they make an extremely powerful and memorable pairing on this album where everything, as advertised, is right.
Welch & Ledbetter at 2016 Chicago Blues Festival tribute to Otis Rush – “Right Place, Wrong Time”