Michael Jerome Browne,
(Borealis, 2007)

On Double, Canadian folk and blues guy Michael Jerome Browne issues a two-CD set that shows 10 years of musical growth; one CD is a current live set, while the other is a reissue of his first solo album from 1998.

The live album starts out with Browne alone on stage, opening with an acoustic blues number from J.B. Lenoir, which he follows up with a version of Del Boggs' "Sugar Baby" played on the gourd banjo. In structuring the beginning of his set this way, Browne announces that we're going to cover some musical territory.

He doesn't travel that territory alone. Bringing other people on stage one or two at a time, he winds up with a full band, including master blues guitarist Sue Foley. With the band, Browne proceeds to range all over the blues, playing every style from West Side Chicago to Robert Johnson (as filtered through Johnny Shines) to Bo Diddley and '40s jump blues.

He's at home with all of the styles, so while the album sometimes seems to be a history lesson, it still swings; it shows the depth of folk blues as well as convincingly showing Browne's love of the form.

The studio set doesn't sound significantly different from the live set. Browne is more assured today, but he wasn't a neophyte when he cut the first record, and he recorded it live in the studio with, I assume, a minimum of overdubs. Some of the musicians who accompanied him live in 2007 appear on this set also, so there is a consistency and, again, the foray into blues history helps unify the two records. This one dips even deeper into history; it constitutes the final recordings of Van "the Man" Walls, a giant of the piano whose career goes back to the 1930s and who accompanied Big Joe Turner on all of his classic hits.

You're going to want to hear this one more than once.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

9 August 2008

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