Monday, November 19, 2007

David Bromberg at the Rex

If you have to suffer to play the blues, then David Bromberg must have been hog-tied and beaten for the better part of his life. On Friday at the Rex Theater, he turned in one of the best live shows I have seen in a long time. Playing a mixture of blues, folk, and bluegrass, the mercurial Bromberg demonstrated why his reputation as a "musician's musician" is well founded while at the same time reminding me of why I love live music. Bromberg, perhaps better known for who he has played with (Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Vassar Clements, Willie Nelson, The Eagles, Phoebe Snow, John Prine to name a few) than for his own material, has just released his first studio album in 17 years and is currently touring, mixing in some new blues and some old classics.

Bromberg emerged in the 1970s as a heralded studio musician--a fantastic guitar player, he is also proficient on the fiddle, dobro, and mandolin. After releasing several albums, either solo or with his Quartet, Bromberg "hung it up" in the 1980s (didn't we all?), touring rarely throughout the late '80s and '90s. In the past few years, however, Bromberg has reemerged, touring with his quartet and with his wife's vocal trio, the Angel Band--and I am glad he did.

The Angel Band (Jen Schonwald, Nancy Josephson, and Kathleen Weber) opened and I was immediately blown away--"When I Sing this Song" was a bouncy bluegrass number that set the tone for the evening. I was particularly impressed by Weber. The youngest of the trio, Weber's soulful voice was more reminiscent of Etta James than that "high lonesome sound" of bluegrass, and she brought down the house on "Fountain of Good," a bluesy number that showcased her vocal range and power.

Bromberg followed with this band featuring Jeff Wisor (fiddle, mandolin), Bobby Tangrea (guitar, mandolin, fiddle) and Butch Amiot (bass). Possibly the best "song" was the three-way fiddle showdown between Bromberg, Wisor, and Tangrea. Beyond that, he mixed in some of his older classics with a few new blues numbers off his is recent album. "Big Road Blues" was particularly good. Bromberg brought back the Angel Band for a few songs at the end of the set, most notably "Sharon," which simply rocked. Bromberg's unique voice and witty lyrics are truly best appreciated live, as he has an incredible ability to make his songs "come alive" through his storytelling, expressions, and his amazing guitar work.

I am glad that Bromberg is back and I suspect you may see a few more reviews of Bromberg shows because if it gets anywhere near Pittsburgh, I'll be part of that "the same rowdy crowd that was here last night" and "is back again."

No comments: