If you listen to Michael van Merwyk’s music with your eyes, you’ll see a very tall, imposing white German guy, with a Dutch name – an unlikely purveyor of the deep-roots, down-home blues. What’s he going to do, you might wonder. After all, he seems far removed from the origins of American roots music.
A much preferential method is to listen to music with your ears. Then you will hear an accomplished, fiery songster belting out fierce and emotive songs in the acoustic roots & blues tradition. He does it with reverence and dignity. He’s not faking a black accent, not disrespecting the African American heritage of this music that was rooted in the exploitation and oppression of the Jim Crow era. He’s not claiming to have invented it; or, giving himself false credit for keeping it alive. He plays it with respect and passionate devotion. In a deep, meaningful way with a tip of the hat to the originators during the golden era of this music.
He’s startingly good, as a singer/songwriter and guitarist, slide or fingerpicking. There have been great European blues singers and songsters since the mid-1960 as part of the folk & blues revival. Michael van Merwyk now deserves a seat at the table with the best of them. He sings in a rich tenor, almost baritone voice, and he is a swiftly skilled, virtuosic guitarist.
His new release “Blue River Rising“ has everything done right, exquisitely tasteful, well-crafted songs, with hot, superb instrumentation. All that in a generous set of songs, mostly written by van Merwyk. His harmonica partner Gerd Gorke plays along sensitively and elegantly, adding just the right touch to van Merwyk’s powerful and gritty merrymaking.
This fine album will give you a deserved dose of fun and joy in this mean pandemic, and that’s what roots & blues music has always done, give you lift in troubled, hard times. We need this now, the real deal, for sure, and it works like dynamite!
Contributing writer to Living Blues magazine; Co-Author of ‘Sweet Bitter Blues – Washington DC’s Homemade Blues’ with Phil Wiggins; Publisher of thecountryblues.com