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Leo Welch: Sebougla Voices

Chris M. Slawecki By

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For decades, singer, guitarist, fiddler and harmonica player Leo Welch has played and sung fertile, deep South country blues and gospel at smalltown picnics and parties in and around his hometown of Sabougla in north central Mississippi, where he also leads the local gospel group Leo Welch & The Rising Souls, and belongs to the Skuna Valley Male Chorus and the Sebougla Voices vocal group. On Sabougla Voices, titled to honor these roots and their attendant ghosts, "Bud" Welch stomps and roars like Howlin' Wolf through this once-in-a-lifetime electric gospel-blues debut at 81 years young.

The raw emotion that haunts these Voices is more than primal: Call-and-response vocals toss each verse and chorus to a fevered pitch while bass and drums pound out a two-step rhythm that simultaneously keeps time and underlines the guitar and vocal lines. Keyboardist Eric Carlton, bassists Matt Patton and Bronson Tew, and roots-rock guitarist Jimbo Mathus (whose multitudinous projects include the legendary Squirrel Nut Zippers), also raise their voices in Welch's most godly racket.

"Somebody Touched Me" echoes the gospel classic "Down by the Riverside" but rendered through cranked-up amps in screaming electric blues guitar and Welch's ragged gospel shout. Lyrically, "Take Care of Me Lord" and "Praying Time" do little more than shout their titles over and over, but the repetition only seems to drive their intensity hotter and harder. Fans of Holmes Brothers will enjoy "You Can't Hurry God," which adds piano that brings Saturday night boogie-woogie together with Sunday morning worship.

Welch opens this service with the frantically hardscrabble "Praise His Name," carving it out of the silence with the rough edge of his vocal and guitar, which are pretty much one and the same. This music is basic; the magic comes from its passionate abandonment to the spirit—whether it's the spirit of the music or the spirit of the name, both spirits sound and feel one and the same.

No words can do justice to the eternal blue flame that burns through Welch in "Mother Loves Her Children," classic Mississippi delta blues in form, content and execution. The honest joy and pain in his quivering yet vibrant vocal nails this to the ground, and you right along with it. Sabougla Voices closes with "The Lord Will Make a Way," a song of faith through every storm plaintively sung in Welch's voice and acoustic guitar.

"I believe in the Lord, but the blues speaks to life, too," Welch testifies. "Blues has a feeling like gospel—they just don't have a book."

Track Listing: Praise His Name; You Can't Hurry God; Me and My Lord; Take Care of Me Lord; Mother Loves Her Children; Praying Time; Somebody Touched Me; A Long Journey; His Holy Name; The Lord Will Make a Way.

Personnel: Andrew Bryant: drums, organ; Eric Carlton: organ, piano; Jimbo Mathus: guitar; Matt Patton: bass; Bronson Tew: bass; Leo Welch: guitar, harmonica, vocals.

Title: Sebougla Voices | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Big Legal Mess Records


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