Michael Jerome Browne
Browne performs everything from old Appalachian music to Chicago blues with captivating authenticity. www.michaeljeromebrowne.com
The blues is a common thread that runs through virtually all of the music derived from the early American South, and nobody “gets” this connection better than internationally acclaimed singer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Jerome Browne.
Browne performs everything from old Appalachian music to Chicago blues with such captivating authenticity that he’s earned three Juno nominations in two distinct categories. His self-titled debut and its follow-up, Drive On, were each nominated for Best Blues Album. His third recording, the old-time collection Michael Jerome Browne and the Twin Rivers String Band, received a nomination in the Roots and Traditional Group category.
Now Browne ties all these genres together on a new double disc set that demonstrates his phenomenal feel for a variety of blues traditions. Double includes a reissue of his previously-hard-to-get acoustic blues debut along with a brand new collection of songs recorded live at Montreal’s Main Hall.
The Main Hall collection opens with rootsy acoustic covers of J.B. Lenoir’s “Play a Little While” and the traditional number “Sugar Baby” and later moves into rockin’ territory with renditions of J.B. Hutto’s “Please Help” and the trad piece “Don’t Hang My Clothes on no Barbed Wire Line.” Special guest Sue Foley sits in on several numbers, including Bo Diddley’s “Dearest Darling” and Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain.” Harmonica master Bharath Rajakumar can be heard on Otis Rush’s “Sit Down Baby” among other tracks.
Hardcore blues fans will already be familiar with Browne’s 1998 debut CD, but those who aren’t will be thrilled to discover it. Featuring pared-down arrangements of often just guitar and voice, Browne nonetheless pulls off a “big” and varied sound by showing off a myriad of different guitar styles and injecting his vocals with raw emotion. The repertoire ranges from the traditional Cajun fiddle medley “La Danse Carree / La Belle Catherine” to a rootsy cover of Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.” Swing sensation Susie Arioli sings back-up on “I Want to Go Home,” while legendary Atlantic Records session pianist and Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame member (the late) Vann “Piano Man” Walls can be heard on three tracks, including “Gambling Blues.”
Throughout both albums, Browne’s laid-back yet expressive singing style and groovy evocative playing conjures up mental images of everything from a southern back porch to a smoky Chicago blues bar. Given the feeling with which he performs cuts like “Cool Drink of Water” it’s easy to understand why the late Long John Baldry once wrote of Browne that he “gives me that kind of tingle like when I first heard Lead Belly and Big Bill Broonzy.”
Browne’s taste for early American roots music was fostered early in life. Born in South Bend, Indiana in 1960, he is the son of English professors whose love of music and poetry inspired them to take their nine-year-old son to the great jazz, blues and folk clubs in their adopted home of Montreal. It was there that Browne first heard the likes of Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and Lightnin’ Hopkins. By the age of fourteen he was performing professionally on the seventies coffeehouse scene, playing guitar, banjo and harmonica and singing.
Today, Michael Jerome Browne tours frequently in Canada, the U.K., Australia, Europe and the United States. He’s performed at Carnegie Hall with Kate and Anna McGarrigle, in the studio with Taj Mahal and Eric Bibb, and on tour with Guy Davis. He’s been honoured with a Maple Blues Award for Acoustic Artist of the Year and a Real Blues magazine award for Best Acoustic Blues Artist. Sing Out magazine calls him “one of today’s most accomplished interpreters of traditional musical styles.”
On his second solo album, Montreal’s own Michael Jerome Browne cements his reputation as Canada’s most accomplished interpreter of traditional, acoustic blues styles. Most of the album is solo tracks featuring Browne’s singing as he moves between various guitars, fiddle and banjo on raggy tunes like I Love You Emry, developed from a Blind Willie McTell fragment, and Cancer Ward Blues, a moving original that Browne co-wrote, with lyricist B.A. Markus, about the last days of R&B piano legend Harry Vann Walls.
Some songs feature Browne with other Montreal musicians. There’s a swinging version of Irving Berlin’s He Ain’t Got Rhythm that has Browne’s guitar trading solos with guitarist Jordan Officer and Jody Golick on tenor sax, and Someday My Day Will Come, a George Jones country hit recast as a rolling blues, with harmonies and harmonica from Ray Bonneville.”
-Mike Regenstreif, The Gazette
Montreal, December 27, 2001
“Montrealer Michael Jerome Browne has followed up on the slightly flawed promise of his debut solo record with a striking new album of acoustic blues that begs, borrows and steals from a bunch of styles and backgrounds to create an almost entirely new one.
The man has elephant ears for his material and his virtuoso ability on a wide variety of guitars, as well as fiddle and antique gourd banjo, makes the music real.
If that isn’t enough, Browne’s vocals, honed through years as the frontman in the Stephen Barry Blues Band, are confident and accomplished, able to go from modern to deep south traditional (without sounding like a caricature).
Whether it’s convincing blues remakes of songs from sources as varied as George Jones, Al Green, Stevie Wonder or Sam Cooke, among others, to more familiar tuneage from people like Tampa Red, Blind Willie McTell and Dinah Washington, to Brown’s own assured and authentic songs – such as the staggeringly powerful Cancer Ward Blues, co-written with lyricist B.A. Markus in honour of Brown’s owl partner, the late Harry “Piano Man” Vann Walls – this is a full-bodied, real-deal blues record.”
-Norman Provencher, Ottawa Citizen
“Michael Jerome Browne is a brilliant multi- instrumentalist and a marvelous interpreter of roots music traditions”
‘Real Blues’ Magazine
“Browne’s soulful singing is matched by the depth of his instrumental powers on various guitars, banjos and fiddles…Reservoirs of musical talent…an encyclopedic knowledge of blues styles and history”‘
‘Sing Out’ Magazine
“Michael Jerome Browne is a brilliant multi-instrumentalist and a marvelous interpreter of roots music traditions”
‘Real Blues’ Magazine
“Browne’s passionate vocals and outstanding talents make him one of the best solo acts you will ever see”
Manitoba Blues Society
“Unquestionably Canada’s finest roots and blues player”
“Powerhouse display of stunning vocal, songwriting and multi-instrumental talents”
The Winnipeg Sun
“Michael Jerome Browne is a country blues master”
Holger Peterson, CBC Radio
“Michael Jerome Browne delivers with skillful style and joins our list of the very best”
Greenbank Folk Music Society