The title of David Bromberg’s new disc, Use Me serves two purposes. On the one hand, Bromberg does a hard drivin’ freaky six-and-a-half-minute version of Bill Withers’ classic soul track of that name. Bromberg annunciates the lyrics in his trademark droll, staccato and salty voice. He breaks down the wall between singer and audience through his intimate asides. He plays some amazing rhythm and blues guitar. Bromberg makes you want to find someone who will use you, too, in the best sense of the term.
The title also refers to the way Bromberg assembled the album. He enlisted the support of some of his prominent friends to contribute material and performances. They would use Bromberg how they saw fit. The contributors include such respected names as John Hiatt, Levon Helm, Vince Gill, Dr. John and Los Lobos. Bromberg only wrote one song on the record, the honky-tonk rave-up “Tongue”. It doesn’t matter. The album has a conceptual heart, that of Bromberg’s soulful singing and playing, that binds every tune together as part of the whole.
Take the greasy Hiatt composition, “Ride on Out a Ways”. Bromberg and Hiatt trade guitar licks on the song about feeling alone and the need for companionship. The instrumentals brightly resonate, yet maintain the ache of feeling like you’re a small cog in the world. The pairing of Bromberg with the other musicians, like Hiatt, allows all of the musicians to do their stuff. The results are comfortable, but still have an edge, as it seems the artists are in competition with Bromberg and are a bit afraid of being shown up.
He does set the bar high. His slide guitar on Dr. John’s “You Don’t Want to Get Me Mad” could drive one crazy with its slinky pleasures. Bromberg snarls out the lyrics like a boxing champ baiting his opponent with trash talk at the weigh-in. “I got wrinkles in my face / I don’t need you, too,” he boasts. The singer knows from experience that he’s gonna win. Dr. John’s piano accompaniment adds a party feel to the scene, like maybe everyone involved has been drinking too much. They are feeling a bit too good. He knows a war of words trumps one with fists.
Not only did Bromberg have noted musicians write songs for and perform with him, he also recorded the songs at their own studios. This gives the individual tracks even more of a special identity. For example, Los Lobos adds a Spanish touch on the sad “The Long Goodbye”. The musicians take a subtle approach and let the rhythms sway slowly. This adds a melancholy note to the proceedings, but a sweet one of yearning. Meanwhile, Vince Gill and Gary Clark offer the country style “Lookout Mountain Girl”, complete with Gill and Bromberg’s fancy string-picking solos. The two American styles are as different as salsa and grits, but they are tasty nonetheless.
Bromberg first became popular in the early ‘70s as a sideman and colleague to such notables as Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Jerry Garcia. This new disc shows that he still has good taste in musicians, and is smart enough to let them use him to full advantage.