Michael Jerome Browne,
Drive On
(Borealis, 2002)

The cover features the man himself, gazing out with a certain look in his eyes, a challenge, a confidence and a trace of a smile. The CD challenges any stasis in attitude to blues, as Michael Jerome Browne confidently plays gourd banjo, 12-string, tenor, resonator and acoustic guitars, and fiddle, and sings a mixture of songs inspired or influenced by West African and Appalachian melodies, country blues and gospel.

My favourite is "Someday My Day Will Come," a cover of the George Jones hit from the '70s, with a gentle country beat, plus vocal and harmonica accompaniment by Ray Bonneville. This is the only track overdubbed, as Browne plays fiddle in addition to guitar.

The album opens with the slightly harsh tones of "Goin' Where I Never Been Before," an early blues-style number based on an old work song. It softens into "I Love You Emry" before introducing "Children," a new number written by Browne with lyrics by B.A. Markus. The mood moves more towards R&B with Al Green's beat-driven "I'm A Ram," Stevie Wonder's "Gotta Have You" and Sam Cooke's slow and smoochie "That's Where It's At."

The minimalistic banjo-style tuned guitar accompaniment to "New Morning Blues" makes for an unfussy song, with Browne's vocals seemingly changing from the rich and mellow tones evident in "Someday..." and "That's Where..." to plaintive and edgy. The tracks span the decades, encompassing times past and times present, and the lyrics to "Cancer Ward Blues" will find many heads nodding and eyes brimming. The slide guitar on "You Missed a Good Man" continues the skills displayed on "I Love You Emry," and the lyrics are amusing. The inclusion of Jody Golick on tenor sax in Irving Berlin's "He Ain't Got Rhythm" lifts and singles out this foot-tappin' track, and things slide to a graceful close with Browne's take on an old Dinah Washington song, the sax soaring and the brushes soothing on the appropriately titled "Journey's End."

I have to admit, I prefer the softer tracks, but this is a well-balanced CD, alternating rhythm and style, mood and feeling, and Browne's vocals are adaptable and pleasant, his musicianship beyond question. This is his second CD, his first with Borealis, and his next is sure to be as interesting and enjoyable as Drive On.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 1 February 2003

[ visit the artist's website ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.