Album Review: Monster Mike Welch – Nothing But Time

Three-time Blues Music Award nominee (and 2019 winner in the Instrumentalist – Guitar category) Monster Mike Welch has been releasing albums under his own name since his 1996 debut, These Blues Are Mine. The Boston-born guitarist’s extensive credits include recordings and performances with Johnny Winter, Nick Moss, Duke Robillard and many others. He also worked as lead guitarist in Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, playing on five of that group’s albums.

For his eighth (and first for Gulf Coast) solo release, Welch did what many other wise and well-informed blues artists have done of late: he made the trek to Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studio in San Jose. There he made Nothing But Time, drawing upon the skill of a core group of top players including bassist extraordinaire Jerry Jemmott, pianist Bob Welsh, drummer Fabrice Bessouat (recently heard on Sax Gordon’s Extreme Sax! album) and producer Andersen himself.

“Walking to You Baby” is built around musical dialogue: Welch and his searing guitar leads engage in spirited give-and-take. His assertive guitar lines soar over a rock-solid rhythm section and insistent horn riffs. “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day” couldn’t be more different; squealing slide guitar, rollicking piano and just the right amount of distortion on the vocal all add up to a lively reading of one of Robert Johnson’s lesser-known songs. “I’ve Got Nothing But Time” is a solid slab of southern soul.

One highlight of Nothing But Time is also a most unlikely cover: “I Me Mine” is a George Harrison song, the last recording The Beatles worked on before their split. Here the Harrison classic is inventively recast; Welch makes it his own, digging deep to finding the blues texture within the composition. In doing so, Welch makes a strong case that it was there all along, waiting to be discovered.

“Offswitch Blues” sounds almost as if it’s a different artist. In lesser hands, such variety could result in a scattershot, unfocused album. But Welch’s versatility is a strength, and the wide-screen musical landscape explored on Nothing But Time is a big part of what makes it special.

A raucous Texas swing vibe informs “Losing Every Battle.” “Hard to Get Along With” is a lead guitar extravaganza. The exuberant “Jump for Joy” more than lives up to its title; it may well be the strongest cut on the set. Demonstrating his skill at crate-digging, Welch unearths a rarely-covered Buddy Guy number, “Ten Years Ago,” first waxed in 1960. He leans into the arrangement with equal parts passion and subtlety.

“Afraid of My Own Tears, Part 1 & 2” sounds like classic blues/soul track of the ‘60s; At nearly nine minutes and without lyrics, not a second is wasted. Welch wraps up this fine collection with some unaccompanied acoustic country blues, a faithful reading of Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman Blues.” It’s a fitting conclusion to a superb release.