Leo Welch – Sabougla Voices

Big Legal Mess

Big Legal Mess

Let’s ignore the story behind Leo Welch’s Sabougla Voices album for a moment and just talk about the tunes and nothing but the tunes. Here’s the deal, folks: if you like your blues raw and real and served up Mississippi downhome-style – slathered with gospel sauce – then you’re going to love this album.

That’s all you really need to know about Sabougla Voices – and reason enough to lay hands to a copy of it.

Of course, it’s also pretty darn cool that Mr. Welch’s backing band for this album is some kind of amazing all-star lineup of Mississippi-rooted players: ol’ Jimbo Mathus is right there on guitar with his Tri-State Coalition bandmate Eric Carlton on keys; Andrew Bryant of the Water Liars plays drums and organ; we have The Monkeygrass Jug Band’s Bronson Tew tag-teaming on bass with Matt Patton of the Dexateens and Drive-By Truckers (Patton also plays some guitar); and the sweet background vocals of Martha and Laverne Conley (the Sabougla Voices) tie it all together in the nicest of ways.

And then, atop all of that is the fact – the true, believe-it-or-not fact – that Leo Welch is 81 years old as his recorded debut hits the streets. No, I didn’t transpose the numbers; that’s an 8 and a 1 – 81. (He’ll be 82 in March, as a matter of fact). The reality and soul that come through in tunes such as the lay-it-out-there-pure-and-simple “Mother Loves Her Children” or the slap-knee piledriver groove of “His Holy Name” is the product of a lifetime of back-breaking work in the woods and on the farms around his Mississippi home. Ain’t nobody needs to tell Leo Welch to make his music sound a certain way, folks – he’s lived what he sings.

Welch has been a guitar picker and singer since he was little (he plays harmonica and fiddle as well). Rather than hit the local Mississippi Hill Country juke joints when he reached adulthood, Welch chose to play his bluesy gospel/gospel-based blues in the area’s churches (when he wasn’t out sweating in the woods with a logging crew, manhandling a chain saw). As he tells it, he “never had nobody to help me” take his music any further than Sunday services and neighborhood picnics and parties. It was a friend of Welch’s – Vencie Varando – who convinced him to reach out to local indie label Big Legal Mess after hearing Welch play. (Varando, who’s “only” in his 50s says he never heard Welch play until the spring of last year.) Label owner Bruce Watson overheard an intern informing a caller, “We really don’t do blues here anymore” – luckily, Watson interrupted the conversation and, upon hearing Welch’s story, invited him in to play some tunes. As soon as Watson heard Welch’s music, he was a goner: the sessions for Sabougla Voices followed.

Keep on jammin’: click here to read the rest of Leo Welch’s story on Jambands.com

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