Leo Welch

The Angels in Heaven Done Signed My Name

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While it wasn't unexpected given his advanced age and health, the death of gospel bluesman Leo "Bud" Welch in 2017 felt altogether too soon. The Delta bluesman from Sabougla, Mississippi had been performing for most of his life. He gigged in juke joints, opened for touring artists such as B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, and John Lee Hooker, and played in church, but he didn't release an album until he was 81. 2014's Sabougla Voices was a "Sunday morning" gospel-blues album of songs he'd learned, written, or improvised on the spot. He followed it a year later with his "Saturday night sinner's record," I Don’t Prefer No Blues, and toured the globe. In 2018, he was the subject of the documentary film, Late Blossom Blues: The Journey of Leo "Bud" Welch. Welch cut The Angels in Heaven Done Signed My Name in Nashville with producer Dan Auerbach and his band the Arcs (that included the late Richard Swift), at his Easy Eye Sound label and studio in Nashville in 2015. Welch prepared 30 traditional songs he'd been playing throughout his life and cut them live from the floor with the Arcs. After his passing, Auerbach returned to the tapes, cut the selection to ten tunes, and added few overdubs. The end result is pure Welch, passionate and rootsy, from his percussive, jagged, sometimes spooky guitar playing to his elastic, gritty, vocal phrasing.

Opener "I Know I Been Changed" commences solo in a droning minor-key blues, with Leon Michels' Hammond B-3, Auerbach's plodding snare/ and Dave Rose's bass. Its low-down droning vibe recalls Blind Willie Johnson's "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed." The old chestnut "Jesus on the Mainline" is brighter, looser, a brilliant example of Welch's gospelized blues offered by three electric guitars, organ, kick drum, tom-toms, and a backing vocal chorus. It's soul stirring and nearly danceable. Contrast it with "Don't Let the Devil Ride," a cautionary, steamy, rocking trance blues that emerges from the Delta soil in the tradition of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. "I Come to Praise His Name" is performed in shuffling stomp groove, like a rowdy revival camp meeting. The Grascals add backing vocals to the rocking country gospel of "Right on Time," which features some of Welch's most passionate singing and playing atop his band's rockabilly attack and swaying chorus vocals. "I Wanna Die Easy" is poignant in light of Welch's passing, but in its greasy, raw, presentation, this foreboding tune is a juke joint stroll. "Let It Shine" is a relaxed yet celebratory country-gospel-boogie with steel guitars, shuffling bass, and swampy organ. It there's a complaint about The Angels in Heaven Done Signed My Name, it's niggling: At only 27 minutes, Auerbach could have chosen more cuts from the 30 at his disposal. That said, what's included here offers a powerful, imposing, lasting portrait of Welch as a singular bluesman in the long, rich, Delta tradition.

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