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David Bromberg - The Player: A Retrospective

  by Fiona Hutchings

published: 26 / 3 / 2019

David Bromberg - The Player: A Retrospective
Label: Floating World
Format: CD


First-rate compilation of early 70's material from Californian singer-songwriter David Bromberg whose name might not be instantly recognisable but whose trademark guitar fingerpicking has been very influential.

Before going on a self-imposed hiatus to make violins, David Bromberg was a man in demand. When he wasn't writing and recording his own music, artists from Bob Dylan to the Eagles to the Beastie Boys and many more employed his services as a session musician. He was nominated for a Grammy in 2007 and still releases music every few years alongside maintaining his violin business. This album provides a valuable introduction to his early work. It's certainly an education. It also includes, praise be, very comprehensive sleeve notes courtesy of Alan Robinson. It feels less of a certainty whenever I open a new CD that I'll find much to read while the music plays, but here I have all the context I could want. The fact he was Reverend Gary Davis' "seeing-eye dog" for a while is just one little gem waiting for you here. In this compilation of songs taken from the four albums he recorded on Columbia between 1971-75 includes a traditional medley, a couple of Dylan covers, original compositions and a collaboration or two with a Beatle. It also features a version of 'Mr Bojangles'. During a spoken interlude, as he noodles on his strings, Bromberg talks about the real Mr Bojangles. I've heard many people claim to know Mr Bojangles but this story is attributed directly to the song's writer and Bromberg's contemporary, Jerry Jeff Walker, so maybe this one is the true one? Bromberg played in Walker's touring band for several years so maybe the stories of drunken altercations and interactions were witnessed first hand. Regardless, it is a thing of true beauty and for such an often covered song it sounds fresh and different. The delicate guitar picking dances over the steady bass and words are delivered with a laidback but still self-assured style. I'm not surprised to learn this track, for 1972's 'Demon in Disguise' earned Bromberg airtime on progressive rock shows. 'Sharon' is so unexpectedly funky I've fallen in love with Bromberg before he even introduces me to the subject of the song. He is backed on this track by Bill Kreutzmann, Keith Godchaux and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. 'The Holdup' reminds me of Weird Al Yankovic both in the lyrics and the way it's presented, but this one's a Bromberg and George Harrison collaboration. As well as a co-writing credit, Harrison plays the slide guitar though this part of the track was overdubbed onto a live recording, which is why this cut is called the Harrison version. 'Suffer to Sing yhe Blues' sees our hero now on the wrong side of a holdup. Maybe it's poetic justice? Either way the combination of fiddle, cultural touchstones (he is seeing Runaround Sue) and what sounds like a big group of friends jamming and laughing at each other. It also contrast well with 'Mr Blue', an altogether more downbeat number. 'The Joke's On Me' has a choir of slide guitars adding a sweet breeze to this country classic take of heartbreak. 'Sammy's Song' is a very candid story of a man who demands to see a woman's body, but doesn't know what to do when she finally acquiesces and is left deeply shaken, sucking his own feelings back inside. Dylan lends his plaintive harmonica to the tale. It is the sort of song that brings me up short and demands more than one replay. It feels uncomfortable and challenging and is all the more memorable for it. 'Yankee's Revenge' takes us from 'Leather Britches' to 'Drowsy Maggie' via 'The Red-Haired Boy', a 'Teetotaler's Reel' and 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley' and it dances at a furious pace between each stop. 'Wallflower' has a saxophone solo which somehow both surprises me and works. 'Nobody's' is melancholic and possibly my favourite track. There is a swell of strings pn it that make my chest hurt. A 'Dead Version' of 'The Holdup' sounds anything but. With the Grateful Dead trio along for the ride and Tracy Nelson on backing vocals, it's the most joyful, catchy mugging song. It also sounds like a mariachi band are now in attendance along with at least one rabid dog, the cavalry and possible some gunshots echoing as we all make our escape. By this point I'm no longer surprised. It is obvious that David Bromberg is a man with varied musical tastes and influences. Someone who was "open to everything going down?I learned so much that way." This retrospective leaves me with the impression of a man who can sing, write and play many different types of strings. His joy at performing is clear whether the track itself find him in a happy place or not. All things considered, I think David Bromberg didn't ultimately want the cheap tinsel of wider commercial fame. Though his record company wanted to keep pushing him, making him more visible and known, no matter how much money he was offered, he started saying no. "I decided I didn't want to be one of those guys who drags himself onto the stage and does a bitter imitation of something he used to love...I had to find another way to live my life and that I would enjoy." Instead he went to violin school and eventually returned to performing live too. The quickest of searches on YouTube prove he has lost none of his talent or ability to connect intimately with his audience.

Track Listing:-
1 Sharon
2 The Holdup ("Harrison" version)
3 Mr. Bojangles (Live)
4 Suffer To Sing The Blues (Album Version)
5 Mr. Blue (Album Version)
6 The Joke's On Me (Album Version)
7 Sammy's Song (Album Version)
8 Yankee's Revenge (Medley) (Album Version)
9 Wallflower (Live)
10 Statesboro Blues/ Church Bell Blues (Album Version)
11 Nobody's (Album Version)
12 The Main Street Moan (Album Version)
13 I Like To Sleep Late In The Morning (Album Version)
14 Dehlia
15 The Holdup ("Dead Version")

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