Browne’s skill on guitar, resonator, banjo, harp, and fiddle is front and center on this collection of acoustic gems, featuring compositions by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Blind Willie McTell and Skip James, as well as contributions by lesser known artists like Barbecue Bob and Crying Sam Collins.
That the simple, plaintive stories of impoverished rural folks should still resonate in the high tech, light-speed-paced modern era, is proof that the nature of men and women hasn’t changed much at all. Pain is still pain, loneliness and isolation are amplified to a generation that increasingly relates more efficiently with electronics than with flesh and blood. Browne is a gift to a generation not only isolated from others, but also disconnected from itself.
Browne, oft a road companion to Eric Bibb, another pre-war blues sage, is a skilled messenger of the human history that is the blues. To hear him sing, you might imagine an elderly black blues man. To see him is to see a middle aged white man who might just as easily be on your high school’s PTA. Quiet and unassuming, he makes his statement with his performance, not rhetoric or hype. And his performance says it all.
At a recent concert in Maryland, with Eric Bibb, Guy Davis, and Mark Murphy, Browne was the perfect collaborator. Supporting Bibb on the winter leg of his tour, Browne offered excellent slide guitar work, soulful harmony vocals, and tasteful fills and solos on harp and fiddle. Guy Davis name checked Browne three or four times throughout the evening, at one point joking, “You think you’re going somewhere, you look around and Michael Jerome Browne’s already there.”
On Sliding Delta Browne is a tour de force, acquitting himself admirably on mandolin, fiddle, banjo, harp, resonator, and a variety of classic guitars from the 30s through the 70s. His picking sparkles brightly, playing against the moaning quality of his vocals. Standout tracks include the title track, an ode to a train that moved so slow that it appeared to slide down the tracks. Others include the McDowell penned “I Heard Somebody Call,” “Bull Doze Blues,” and “My Road is Rough and Rocky.” The album closes with a spirited duet with Bibb on “Choose Your Seat and Sit Down.”
If you are a fan of acoustic music, the blues, or roots music in general, you need this record. If you appreciate the historic nature of the African-American contribution to the broader American songbook, this is a must have. God bless Browne, and those like him, who remind us of our humanity and refuse to let us forget our past.