Among the many pearls of wisdom to be gleaned from the country blues is the observation that “You don’t miss your water ’til your well runs dry.” Audiences lucky enough to discover David Bromberg back in the ’70s and get spoiled by his constant touring learned the truth of that lyric when, in 1980, the virtuoso multi-instrumentalist hit the burnout point and left the live performing scene, literally for decades. He put out an occasional LP and sat in for sideman spots for musical friends now and then, but dedicated most of his time to learning the art of violinmaking and raising a couple of kids in Chicago.
But as you’ll know if you caught Beth Kruvant’s documentary about him, David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure, at the 2012 Woodstock Film Festival, in 2002 the stellar picker of all things stringed relocated to Wilmington, Delaware to open a violin shop. He got involved with saving and restoring a historic opera house that became a keystone in the revitalization of the city’s blighted downtown, started sitting in on local jam sessions and was eventually coaxed out of retirement. To the delight of many, Bromberg is back on the road again, performing live and recording. He’ll be making a local stop at the Bearsville Theater this Sunday, and it’s not to be missed.
It was an old Woodstock-based crony, Larry Campbell, who lured Bromberg to the Levon Helm Studios two years ago to record his latest LP, Only Slightly Mad, in which, according to the press release, “fans will find blues, bluegrass, gospel, folk, Irish fiddle tunes, pop and English drinking songs happily coexisting as they can only on a Bromberg album.” That’s underestimating the versatility of this performer, in my humble opinion: There’s no one like David Bromberg to make a guitar sing, talk, moan, howl or growl, squawk, coo, whine, rattle or purr.
A Rolling Stone review of the new album crowned Bromberg “the Godfather of Americana,” and Jerry Jeff Walker has called him “the reason man created stringed instruments.” The guy can play the downest-and-dirtiest Chicago blues you ever heard with a raunchy horn section belting behind him, a slow, lonesome starlit cowboy ballad or a lightning-fast Irish-by-way-of-Appalachia reel. And he’s every bit as adept on the fiddle, mandolin and Dobro as he is on guitar. That’s not even to mention Bromberg’s unerring radar for songs that showcase his trademark nasal voice and sly, self-deprecating sense of humor. (It was “Send Me to the ’Lectric Chair” that first reeled me in, on Wanted: Dead or Alive back in 1974.) His articulation is impeccable and his string-bending soulful, his flabbergasting technique never running roughshod over the feeling inherent in a great tune.
It’s so great to have him back performing again, and hopefully we have all learned our lesson from his long absence that it’s unwise to miss any opportunity to catch Bromberg live. Fine as his studio albums may be, he’s a consummate showman who sparkles most brightly onstage, where his lively wit and obvious love for jamming with respected sidemen can find free rein. At a David Bromberg concert, a good time is absolutely guaranteed.
The iteration of the David Bromberg Band currently touring includes Mark Cosgrove on guitar and mandolin, Robert “Butch” Amoit on bass, Nate Grower on fiddle, guitar and mandolin and Josh Kanusky on drums. So you can expect a lot of switching off on instruments and more of an emphasis on the country blues/bluegrass/gospel/Western swing spectrum of what Bromberg plays than on the Chicago blues/ragtime/Dixieland/klezmer stuff that comes to the fore when he’s traveling with his brass-laden Big Band. It’s all good, anyhow you slice it.
Tickets to the David Bromberg Band at the Bearsville Theater on March 22 at 8 p.m. go for $45, $55 and $70. To order, call (845) 679-4406 or visit https://bearsvilletheater.com.
David Bromberg Band, Sunday, March 22, 8 p.m., $70/$55/$45, Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-4406, https://bearsvilletheater.com.