David Bromberg Quartet,
Live: New York City 1982
(Appleseed, 2008)

This recording is exactly as advertised: guitar/mandolin/fiddle master David Bromberg's string band (long since extinct) at its hottest, recorded before Bromberg packed it in for a couple of decades to make violins, first in California, then in Chicago, later in Wilmington, Del., where he lives currently. Happily, Bromberg is now a performing musician again. In 2007 he released a splendid solo disc, wittily titled Try Me One More Time, which is both the title song and a mock-plaintive plea. (I reviewed it in this space on 7 April 2007.) That album consisted of Bromberg's thoughtful arrangements of traditional folk songs and country blues.

As such things go, Live is a lot of fun, if not always an exercise in subtlety, as Bromberg himself acknowledges in the liner notes, referring to the fiddle-tune medley that opens the program: "When I first heard the recording of this performance a few decades after we'd done the concert, I couldn't believe how fast we played. ... Excuse me for bragging about it. Truth is, it isn't much to brag about." Back in those days, though -- as I remember well -- if you could play a zillion notes at blinding speed, that's what you did, and your audience invariably went crazy. I haven't heard something quite like this in a while, and actually, I rather enjoyed it.

It's not all hot licks. "Ookpik Waltz" moves at a stately and (Bromberg's word) "spooky" pace, and gets played with depth and emotional conviction. It's my favorite cut among a bunch of -- figuratively and literally -- well-picked numbers, everything from authentic folk songs to country standards to old-time blues to compositions by revival singer-songwriters Ralph McTell, David Massengill and Bob Dylan.

From the sound of things, all concerned -- wherever they were standing in relation to the stage -- were having a good time that night. I'm not a huge fan of live albums, but this is undoubtedly among the better ones, and it's good to have it to listen to while we wait (I hope not years again) for Bromberg's next studio outing, on which presumably he will be playing slower.

review by
Jerome Clark

8 November 2008

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