Enfant Terrible Non

By Michael Campbell

For our busy, busy readers, here's the express version of this review:

"Q: So, how was the heavily hyped l6 year-old blues guitar Wunderkind?

A: He's a good blues guitar player, and a fair though inconsistent singer,

Q: Did he do anything dramatically different from what you've seen or heard before?

A: No. One of the wonderful things about the arts in general, and music specifically, is that it is the ultimate equal opportunity.

Factors such as age, sex, or race don't really matter, so we won't waste more space on the fact that Mike Welch is 16.

Playing at Stevie Ray's on Feb. 22 to an initially sparse crowd that swelled to capacity by the end of the first set, Monster Mike Welch, who visually invokes a slighter, younger James Dean, got right down to business, with selections from his release These Blues Are Mine. Backed by a competent rhythm section comprised of bass, drums and rhythm guitar, Welch came out in the l990s' de rigueur bluesman uniform of dark, solid suit with dark, solid, shirt with a post-CBS pastel Stratocaster (hey, maybe Women's Wear Daily will pick this up!). I resort to such descriptions because for most of the evening Welch's vocals and guitar work were pretty much buried in the mix. Vocally, his approach is that of Stevie Ray Vaughan, with a thinner voice, and, though soulful, some intonation problems. From an instrumental standpoint, the sound of his Strat going straight through a Matchless amp simply lacked that compressed, straight to the gut quality ' associated with truly memorable guitar heroes.

But most of the chops served up were deft, and delivered with sincere intensity. Welch's playing travels through the expected territories of Vaughan, the Kings, and Buddy Guy. He is well schooled in Guy's dynamics, going from full throttle to a whisper within a single measure, along with Guy's standard blues shtick (the guitar played behind the back, with his teeth, etc.). Between all that, he was defining Mike Welch: precise, explosive, reflective, and savvy.

I suggest keeping an eye on this one.