The Brothers Comatose,
Songs from the Stoop
(independent, 2010)

Their last name is not Comatose, nor is their behavior, which seems spirited enough. The brothers in the Brothers Comatose are Ben (guitar, vocals) and Alex (banjo, vocals) Morrison. Brother acts have a long history in hillbilly music, but Brothers Comatose are a long way from the Monroes, the Delmores, the Stanleys, the Osbornes and the rest, though the just-mentioned are influences, if distant ones. While acoustic, Brothers Comatose, moreover, are no bluegrass outfit, though the members -- besides the Morrisons, they're Gio Benedetti (bass), Philip Brezina (fiddle) and Joe Pacini (mandolin) -- were clearly educated in that genre school. And they aren't an old-time band.

Nor, it must be added, did they invent their particular tradition-on-its-head approach. The obvious model is the late John Hartford. Hartford's knowledge of American folk music was massive, but in his own picking he usually employed it less as destination than as launching pad, incorporating elements of swing, jazz and lyric surrealism as he flew. The Brothers do not come across as Hartford clones; still, their debt to him isn't hard to notice. Happily, they do honorably by it, and Songs from the Stoop is a fully entertaining excursion into what might be called new-time music.

All but two of the dozen songs are originals. The exceptions are Norman Blake's beloved "Church Street Blues" and Mick Jagger/Keith Richards's "Dead Flowers," the latter a favorite cover of Americana acts from Gram Parsons to the Cowboy Junkies. I don't know the last time I heard the Rolling Stones, but hearing "Flowers" now, I am reminded that Jagger and Richards did write some good ones in their day. The Brothers arrange it as if reviving some relic tune captured on a 78 recorded ca. 1928. If you don't love it, it's possible that you're, um, comatose.

Each song is enjoyable in its particular way. Naturally, I like some more than others, and I suspect that your favorites will be different from mine. After the modernistic "Trippin' on Down," which opens the album, you may be surprised -- I hope pleasantly, as I was -- that "Down to the River" (the sixth cut) recalls nothing less than the Kingston Trio, albeit in a cooler edition. Their "Ballad of Tommy Decker (Prince of Haight)" is akin to something Bob Dylan would write if he were writing something like bluegrass.

The Brothers hail from San Francisco's rich roots scene, home to two other string bands I admire immoderately: the Crooked Jades and the Earl Brothers. If you live there and love the downhome sounds, it must be a hot time in that good old town.

review by
Jerome Clark

22 May 2010

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