January-February 2007

Michael Jerome Browne is an American living in Canada who is sort of an MVP of folk music. He plays fiddle, fretless gourd banjo, guitar, lap guitar and about 16 other instruments. He loves to cover Jimi Hendrix, George Jones and others not usually noted as folk artists. But Browne’s versions of other’s tunes always sound like great folkmusic, not rock or pop pounded square peg style through a round hole.

 He has three CDs available, Michael Jerome Browne was released in 1998, and Drive On arrived in 2001. The most recent CD is an ensemble recording called from 2004 called Michael Jerome Browne & the Twin Rivers String Band.Check out more at www.michaeljeromebrowne.com. I think I like Michael Jerome Browne best, but that may just have been the excitementof discovering this talented young artist for the first time. And you can read his website in French…

  Guy Davis is one of the “new lions” of acoustic blues music His background in blues comes from his artistic heritage as the son of Ruby Dee and the late Ossie Davis, and he started his performing career as an actor, including a stint on television’s One Life To Live. His move to music was a good choice. His releases are this year’s Skunkmellow; Legacy from 2004; Chocolate to the Bone from 2003; give in kind from 2002; Butt Naked Free from 2000; You Don't Know My Mind from 1998; Call Down The Thunder from 1996; and Stomp Down Rider from 1995. Davis’ style has warmth and his recording capture that back porch vibe that seems so easy to obtain but is actually darn near impossible.

William Lee Ellis had a pretty famous godfather in bluegrasser Bill Monroe. Ellis’ father played banjo with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. Although Ellis original venture into guitar was in bluegrass backing his fiddle and banjo playing dad at festivals and contests, he drifted into folk pop and in college he studied classical guitar, earning a master’s degree in classical performance. Then he discovered the music of the Reverend Gary Davis, and from there experienced as much country blues as he could absorb. Ellis feels that the premier country blues performers were essentially folk musicians that used classical technique. Ellis went on to a residency in Japan, and returned to the United States to write about AND play music, an interesting concept, serving as the pop music critic for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. He’s got three albums under his belt, 2006’s God’s Tattoos, Conqueroo from 2003, and The Full Catastrophe from 2000. His work includes a lot of spiritual questing, and is a refreshing blend of blues, bluegrass, classical and pop. Highly recommended.

Alvin Youngblood Hart is also one of those new lions. AYH is adept at capturing some of the raw emotion that makes country blues such a powerful genre, but he also enjoys playing electric music from his youthful heroes such as Led Zeppelin. He’s released a lot of work, with his own CDs including Motivational Speaker in 2005; Down In The Alley in 2002; Start With The Soul in 2000; Territory in 1998) and his first, Big Mama’s Door in 1996. Check out his site at www.mojomusic.com/alvin. And if you pick up any blues compilation released in recent years, he’s probably on it. I love his versions of Sway and Moonlight Mile from Paint It Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones. You would too.

Corey Harris started his career as an acoustic bluesman, but has roamed far afield, as his journeys to Africa have greatly influenced his work. He’s laid aside the National resophonic guitar that defined his early work, and has created an impressive body of recordings for a young man. Harris’ was featured in Martin Scorsese PBS blues film Feel Like Going Home, as Harris traveled and jammed with Malian master musician Ali Farka Toure, the “king of African blues.” His recordings include Between Night and Day from 1995; Fish Ain’t Bitin’ from 1997; Greens from the Garden in 1999; 2000s duet project with piano man Henry Butler on Vu-Du Menz; Downhome Sophisticate in 2002; Mississippi to Mali in 2003;  and Daily Bread in 2005. Harris exudes his love of all things music, and is a charged live performer as well as a captivating recording artist.

Last and decidedly not least, Rollie Tussing III is a folk blues artist now based in Portland, Oregon. His out of print 1998 CD Blow Whistle Blow is a charming blend of originals and blues standards featuring sensitive slide guitar, haunting harmonica and heart felt vocals. It’s an incredibly evocative recording. You can pick up these tunes on his website, www.rollietussing.com , and check out samples from his new Secret Society Of the Diminished Seven release. He’s also really into cigar box guitars…


All Columns by Dennis Roger Reed