by Josh Hurst Music Rooted & Restless

Leo “Bud” Welch | The Angels in Heave Done Signed My Name

April 8, 2019

Timing always seemed inscrutable and capricious in the life of Leo “Bud” Welch, the Mississippi bluesman who began his recording career when he was 81, and died four years later. The posthumously-released The Angels in Heaven Done Signed My Name is only the third entry in his tragically slim catalog — and it’s clear from the source material that Welch knew his time was running short. The 10 songs here are gospel standards, and taken together they become a deathbed confessional, righteous testimony from a man taking refuge in his faith even as he embarks on the final leg of his earthly journey. Welch wasn’t in the best of health when these sessions took place, but he brings stoic joy and solemn authority to every croak, whisper, and shout: “I Know I Been Changed” emanates the certainty he feels that he’s been redeemed by the Good Shepherd, “Don’t Let the Devil Ride” is serious in its resistance to Satan’s wiles, and “Walk With Me Lord” sounds both sweet and needful in its pining for the Savior.

It’s impressive how Welch turns a familiar songbook into such a personal vocabulary — it’s precisely what the folk tradition is for, some might argue — but more astonishing still is how the record resists the kind of po-faced austerity that dogs so many other end-of-life albums. Give some of the credit to producer Dan Auerbach, and his band the Arcs, who provide Welch with crackling, electric support; these songs were cut in quick-and-loose sessions (you can sometimes hear Welch mumble performance instructions, seemingly just to himself), and the album’s 27-minute runtime finds room for molten grooves (“Don’t Let the Devil Ride”), amiable country shuffles (“Right on Time”), and frenzied call-and-response (“I Come to Praise His Name”). Reserve most of the credit for Welch, though; he’s the one who brings contagious joy to these songs, as a model of entering your final years with dignity and grace.

Published as part of Rooted & Restless  | Issue 2