Mike “Lightnin’ ” Wells is a walking encyclopedia of Piedmont blues, early country and gospel music, and presents them all with a master’s touch on guitar, banjo, ukulele and harmonica. The North Carolina native has been regularly featured at such Old North State gatherings as Festival for the Eno and Bull Durham Blues Festival, often in the company of blues artists Big Boy Henry, Algia Mae Hinton and George Higgs.
“O Lightnin’, Where Art Thou?” is an 18-track solo CD recorded on Germany’s Blind Lemon Records. Wells plays all instruments and provides notes on the sources of each song, in English and in German.
Wells draws his material primarily from “classic” players with “classic” tunes. Blues aficionados will recognize Mississippi John Hurt’s “Pallet on the Floor,” Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues” and Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” (with a traditional flavor distinct from the Rolling Stones’ 1969 interpretation).
Country and folk fans will delight in Woody Guthrie’s “New York Town,” the Delmore Brothers’ “Freight Train Boogie” and Charlie Monroe’s “Down in Caroline.”
Wells’ knowledge and musicianship extend beyond the familiar to include rarities such as “I’m Gonna Walk on the Street of Glory,” a traditional tune adapted by the Carter Family as “River of Jordan,” and “Old Jim Kinnane’s” (compare it to the Red Clay Ramblers’ string band version).
And Lightnin’s snappy, uke-rhythm’d romp through “My Papa Doesn’t Two Time No Time” should elicit smiles from even the most sullen and somber countenance.
When all is said and sung, the answer is simple: Lightnin’ Wells is right here, in tune and fine form playing and singing the old songs as a link from the first decades of recorded music to those of us who find wisdom in the songs and lessons of yore.
“O Lightnin’, Where Art Thou?”
By Lightnin’ Wells