[16 March 2007]
When guitarist extraordinaire David Bromberg launched his first venture as an individual artist during the early ‘70s, such luminaries as Bob Dylan and George Harrison joined the former session man on his solo albums. Bromberg also earned a reputation during this period as a brilliant live musician whose energy-packed shows left the audience wowed. His music defied easy categorization. It was part blues, jazz, folk, country and more, rooted in traditional styles but fused into something contemporary and vital. Many of those who saw him back then still fondly recall the concerts as among the best they ever was.
Bromberg recorded sparsely during the ‘80s and not at all in the ‘90s. He rarely performed in front of audiences. It’s been 17 years since he has put out a new disc. The good news is, Bromberg sounds the same as ever. The bad news—which is not really that bad—is that Bromberg sounds the same as ever. The all acoustic contents of Try Me One More Time bespeaks a modern DIY effort and the old make what you need ethos. He’s still singing and playing stuff by the old masters like Robert Johnson, Rev. Gary Davis, and Elizabeth Cotton, as well as several traditional songs in a country blues style that seems as old as the hills and as immediate as the smell when you open the door and know that you’ve arrived home.
Bromberg has always been a fine picker, and he shines on the two spirited instrumentals, the traditional tunes “Buck Dancer’s Choice” and “Hey Bub”. They last less than two minutes each, but the works convey a craftsman’s precision and an artist’s soul. This has always been true of his work. Bromberg understands the importance of not playing too fast and still keeping things moving at a deft pace. That’s a difficult groove for a guitar player to find. The temptation to show off can be difficult to avoid. Bromberg also takes the other tack on “Moonshiner”, which he performs a capella. His voice has a grainy timbre edged with the resonance of barely contained laughter, like he can’t believe anyone would ever want to hear him sing. But that gives Bromberg an infectious sound—think Lyle Lovett as a younger contemporary who no matter what the persona always seems to be singing from the from the heart in a light-hearted way.
The best cuts are simply the best songs, and they are not all that different from the material he recorded when first starting out. Bromberg superbly covers Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”, Rev. Davis’ “Trying to Get Home” and Cotten’s “Shake Sugaree”. These tracks have similar roots in American folk culture and share a sweet and sad perspective on life. Bromberg sings Dylan’s lines with a gentle lilt, “Don’t the moon look good, mama, shinin’ through the trees?” and makes you feel what looking at the moonlit night feels like. He does the same with the poetic lyrics of the other two aforementioned songs. Bromberg make you understand the beauty and the aches of being lonely, and the fact that we are each of us all alone even when we are one with the world.
During Bromberg’s retreat from recording, he was busy making music in a very different way. He became a violin maker and moved to Wilmington, Delaware and opened up a shop. He apparently has become an expert instrument maker whose custom made works are highly valued. Recently, the Martin Guitar Company has just released a new David Bromberg edition guitar modeled after the one he plays. Bromberg’s technical virtuosity at stringed instruments, whether he’s making them or playing them, enhances his performances. It’s nice to have him back, it’s just kind of strange that he really hasn’t changed that much at all.