Music Review

David Bromberg - In Review

A Musical Legend Returns

David Bromberg
David Bromberg

David Bromberg plays music not only with his arms and fingers but enhances the performance with his face, eyebrows and entire posture in song after song. His facial expressiveness is as unmatched as his musicality in blues and Americana genres. This legendary, multi-instrumentalist bandleader and songwriter was recognized in 2011 as a Spirit of Folk awardee by the Folk Alliance International at their annual conference and musical showcase.

There is a sizable circle in the music realms where it is excitedly spoken that no one puts on a better ‘live’ show than David Bromberg. This writer has been following him for over 35 years and he ranks highly in my firmament of star performers.

On January 24th, Bromberg brought his latest quintet to the National Hispanic Cultural Center, through AMP Concerts. He typically alternates in his performance schedule between his Big Band, with many instruments and back up singers, and these mid-sized ensembles. Last year he performed in Santa Fe as ‘The Two David’s’, with David Lindley, well known as Jackson Brown’s sideman, and for many other quality collaborations. Two years ago, Bromberg performed solo in Albuquerque at the South Broadway Cultural Center.

David Bromberg is equally adept at bluegrass, blues, folk, jazz, country & western and rock & roll. Bromberg came of age as a young musical phenom playing on records and performing with Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, Jorma Kaukonen, John Prine, Gordon Lightfoot, Carly Simon, Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan. He co-wrote the song, ‘The Holdup’ with former Beatle George Harrison.

The man and his band can do no wrong as Bromberg’s band opens with ‘Walkin’ Blues’, from their latest album release. As noted in an Elmore Magazine piece about Bromberg is an apt characterization of this legendary performer: “This is a guy who knows no boundaries and has mastered most musical genres in the course of a career that spans over half a century.”

In the promotional material for the new album, a mock newspaper headline entices the listener with these lines: “Accused of ‘Low down dirty country blues’ defendant promises, ‘The Blues, The Whole Blues and Nothing But the Blues.’ “ And man, does the album - and the concert - deliver.

How does a band sound so smoking hot from the start of a concert? Just ask David Bromberg how he does it as a band leader. He walks on stage and opens with a sizzling blues lick on slide guitar as the rest of the band are still just getting a hold of their instruments. Then he gives the floor to his class act band members one by one and they all let it rip. Bromberg’s strong, emphatic vocal phrasing guides the songs along their deep blues tracks.

They performed across a wide range of material and styles, ranging from sampling the news blues record and dipping further back in to Bromberg’s repertoire of Americana, bluegrass, traditional blues and instrumentals. An old Furry Lewis tune featured a deep dialogue between the band members. The mandolin player mimed stomping out cockroaches on a cheap motel floor while playing lead. Then the lead shifted over to the fiddle player while Bromberg narrated the story.

As a band leader, Bromberg uses no set list. Once the concert opens, he calls each tune ‘on the spot’. As the song is underway, this tight ensemble operates with the simplest of gestures. Bromberg turns towards the player and they take the next lead. The music flows effortlessly – and more important - expertly, from each member in turn. In performance, there is nothing like this level of a well-oiled machine.

The Weekly Alibi caught up with Bromberg prior to his arrival in Buerque.

What would you like the New Mexico audience to know about this tour and the upcoming performance in ABQ?

Well, I’ll be with the best band I’ve ever had. Can’t tell them what we’re gonna play because we decide right after we get started. We agree on the first song as a band. And then it’s just whatever I call. For sure we’ll be playing from the new CD. But, I learned that from Jerry Jeff Walker, the spontaneity of making up a show as we go along.

What is like for you being onstage at the height of your musical powers with this band? What is your experience and what does it do for you night after night?

I’m having a ball, it’s very similar to what it’s always like on stage. The hardest thing for a musician to do, is to get to be happy to be onstage night after night after night..I was just talking about it last night, my wife and I were talking. In all these year [4+ decades], there have been maybe 2-3 nights, when I really wasn’t into it.

Can you tell us about your creative and songwriting process; are you writing much these days or more looking for material from other songwriters and historical sources?

I never have made a thing out of my writing, I write when it comes to me, mostly writing blues, I wanted to have a lot of different kinds of blues on this new record…rather than just my own.

Do you have a favorite type of venue or festival you love playing?

There’s a performing arts center in Maine on a dirt road, Stone Mountain Performing Arts Center, the woman who runs it used to be out on the circuit herself. You come in and in the dressing room, there’s a large table with snacks, crackers cheeses. You’ve come in from the road and you are usually hungry. In the dressing room they’ve got a pool table, a piano and an organ, a foos ball table, a record player. Man, they even had a cake with my name on it. Around the walls there are picks and strings. And pizza when you get off stage. What’s actually true is most of us remember the food on the road.

Twice during the Jan. 24th Buerque show, all five players came out from behind their microphones to sing and play unamplified at the front edge of the stage. The second time was for the encore. The two beautiful tunes they sang in such an intimate range to the crowd provided a gesture of audience engagement most befitting of a band and a man of David Bromberg’s musical stature.

Douglas Cohen is a Culture writer and Essayist based in Corrales.