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REVIEW: A Musician’s Musician, Back on the Road: David Bromberg at the Dakota

David Bromberg in concert. The artist performed at the Dakota Jazz Club on Friday, May 17.

David Bromberg made his reputation in the 1960s and 1970s, starting as a skilled and versatile sideman and session musician. He played with everyone from Bob Dylan to Willie Nelson to Jerry Garcia to Carly Simon – and then, somewhat later, made his own mark as a singer and songwriter across multiple genres (folk, country, blues, gospel, bluegrass).

By 1980, though, Bromberg had become burnt out from too much time on the road, and left performing for over 20 years. He went off to learn to build and repair violins, and still runs a violin store in Delaware. Only in 2002 did Bromberg come back to performing and recording.

Multi-instrumentalist performer David Bromberg poses with an electric guitar.

Bromberg’s long journey through and back to music is nicely summarized in two radio interviews, one with WBUR and one with NPR. His recent albums include Only Slightly Mad (2013) and The Blues, The Whole Blues, and Nothing But the Blues (2016). There appears to be more on the way, as during his Friday performance at the Dakota Jazz Club, Bromberg announced that an instrumental medley was from a forthcoming album.

The evening’s entertainment began with “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” a gospel blues song associated with Blind Willie Johnson. The song has also been recorded by a wide range of singers, including Led Zeppelin, and Bromberg himself, on two different albums, Reckless Abandon, Bandit In a Bathing Suit (1998) and 2013’s Only Slightly Mad.  Other classics covered during the set included Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues”, Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight to the Blind”, Bobby Charles’s “Tennessee Blues”, Waylon Jennings’s “Kissing You Goodbye”, and an a cappella version of the spiritual “Standing in the Need of Prayer” (the first two were also on The Blues, The Whole Blues).  Bromberg did not entirely forsake his own compositions, offering “Top of the Slide” from Sideman Serenade (1989), “Kaatskill Serenade” from How Late’ll Ya Play ‘Till, Vol. 2 (1976), “This Month” from The Blues, The Whole Blues, and an extended version of one of his most famous songs, “Sharon”, from Demon in Disguise (1972).

David Bromberg in 1974. Photo by Cal Robinson.

Bromberg combines the blues singling style of B.B. King with the lyrical sensibility of Tom Lehrer.  Back in the day, Bromberg was famous for his musical virtuosity, sometimes playing a half-dozen different instruments in a single set.  His dobro and banjo were apparently left at home for this tour, so the packed audience at The Dakota had to be satisfied with some virtuoso work on the electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and mandolin.  The artists was backed by an excellent supporting band, with particularly outstanding performances by Mark Cosgrove (guitar and mandolin) and Nate Grower (fiddle and mandolin), plus solid support from Suavek Zaniesienko on bass and Josh Kanusky on drums.  Clearly displayed on the quartet’s faces was the joy of making great music together.

Brian Bix