Roadhouse Album Review: Michael Jerome Browne revives great old folk blues on “Gettin’ Together”

Michael Jerome Browne — “Gettin’ Together” — Borealis Records

There’s nothing like a set of great old acoustic blues to remind us of some of the origins of this classic American music,.

That’s just what Michael Jerome Browne provides on his latest album, “Gettin’ Together,” which he does with a handful of artists who perform 14 songs that reach deep into blues obscurity for much of this session.

Born in Indiana, Browne has lived in Canada since he was nine, where he and his musical versatility became part of Montreal’s coffee-house scene by age 14. He’s since developed into a world-class singer, multi-instrumentalist and musicologist.

More recently, he’s been a three-time Canadian Folk Music Award winner (Traditional Singer, 2015; Solo Artist, 2012 & 2008), won the Blues With A Feeling Award at the 2020 Maple Blues Awards (with 35 nominations since 1999), five-time Juno Award Nominee in both the Roots/Traditional and Blues categories, and Kerrville (Texas) New Folk Finalist.

On this latest session, Browne “gets together” with Harrison Kennedy, J.J. Milteau, Eric Bibb, Mary Flower, John Sebastian, Colin Linden, Stephen Barry, Julian McColgan, Teilhard Frost, and Happy Traum. Browne sings and plays a resonator guitar, tremolo 12-string, or his gourd banjo with this talented group of pickers, harpists, fiddlers, and percussionists.

The result is plenty of fine music, and not incidentally, a history lesson rich in folk music and the blues.

Some of the musical sources here should be very familiar to folk-blues fans: Brownie McGhee, Mississippi John Hurt, Booker White and Mary Flower. But much of the music Browne has picked (literally) for this album includes songs from virtually unknown names, such as Black Boy Shine, Rube Lacy, Bayless Rose and Big Charlie Butler, that go back nearly a century into the 1920s and ’30s.

Browne’s begins this blues time-travel on Hurt’s easy-riding “Monday Morning Blues” from 1928 with his 12-string and Kennedy’s lyrical harmonica. Next, Bibb and Milteau help out on Booker White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down.” Mary Flowers adds lap slide on the instrumental “I’ve Got the Big River Blues” by the Delmore Brothers. Sebastian on harp and Flowers join in on Hurt’s chestnut, “Coffee Blues.”

Just a little historical digression: “Coffee Blues” is the song that provided the name for John Sebastian’s band, the Lovin’ Spoonful, since that phrase is repeated in the lyrics. And now Sebastian turns up here playing harp on “Coffee Blues.” Coincidence? I think not.

Next, Browne duets with Linden on “Ham Hound Crave,” s song by the almost literally unknown Rube Lacy; slide guitarist J.B. Hutto’s electric “Please Help” gets an acoustic makeover; Booker White’s “Fixin’ to Die Blues,” shows up with banjo and fiddle treatment; the instrumental “Reverend Strut” is named after the Rev. Gary Davis, with Browne playing Davis’s original banjo.

“Married Man Blues” is from the little known Houston pianist Harold Holiday, or Black Boy Shine, noting that the original title should have been “Married Woman Blues”; another pairing with Flower on a lap slide produces a plaintive “Black Dog Blues” by Bayless Rose; Flower follows on a 12-string with her own instrumental “Wisecrack.”

A somewhat less obscure William Buch (Peetie Wheatstraw, who also called himself the High Sheriff from Hell or the Devil’s Son-In-Law)) wrote “Six Weeks Old Blues,” followed by “Diamond Joe,” by Big Charlie Butler while in the Parchman Farm Prison in the 1930s. The closer is Brownie McGhee’s “Living with the Blues,” with Browne, Sebastian, McColgan, and Happy Traum join the finale.

That’s a lot of history and a lot of music — there’s much more information in the carefully notated booklet that come with the CD. When you put all that together, it’s a smartly crafted set of acoustic folk blues that goes down easy. Browne has gathered the music and the players and they’ve woven a magical tapestry of this music and its historic sources.

Here’s “Coffee Blues” by Michael Browne:


1. Monday Morning Blues
2. Shake ‘Em On Down
3. I’ve Got the Big River Blues
4. Coffee Blues
5. Ham Hound Crave
6. Please Help
7. Fixin’ To Die Blues
8. Reverend Strut
9. Married Man Blues
10. Black Dog Blues
11. Six Weeks Old Blues
12. Wisecrack
13. Diamond Joe

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