David Bromberg,
Use Me
(Appleseed, 2011)

If not a household name, David Bromberg has enjoyed a long, respected career as an acoustic and electric guitarist. Like many who've been around for a while, I first became aware of him when he was touring and recording with Jerry Jeff Walker. He was among the few folk musicians with any public visibility in the 1970s and into the 1980s, when virtually no other could be found on any but tiny labels. Bromberg even produced an album, so far unreleased, with Bob Dylan. He left the circuit to move to Chicago, where he devoted himself exclusively to the crafting of fine violins. He has lived in Wilmington, Delaware, for some years.

With the playfully titled Try Me One More Time -- an apposite quote from an old-time blues -- he returned to recording (see my review here on 7 April 2007). Use Me is his second CD of newly cut material on the revival label Appleseed. A solo, acoustic-guitar record, Try Me showcased traditional folk songs and rural blues. This time around, Bromberg turns to more modern roots music, namely electric blues, r&b and country. Only Gus Cannon's "Bring It with You When You Come" (sans band arrangement) would have found a home on Try Me. It strikes me as the stand-out cut of the 11 here, but maybe that's my taste, always leaning retro.

It is a testament, in any event, to Bromberg's clout that he could ask some heavyweight names to write -- or, if they were not writers, to suggest -- songs for to him to record and to have them respond positively. Beyond that, Bromberg wanted them to produce him doing their songs. The result is a slick but not slippery CD with solid material. Actually, the countryish "Blues is Fallin" sounds to my ears as good as anything the prolific Tim O'Brien has written. "Diggin' in the Deep Blue Sea," co-composed by Kevin Moore (Keb' Mo' in his performing life), is a superbly crafted, hard-hitting, environmentally themed topical song of the sort we need now more than ever.

Levon Helm suggested the Gus Cannon song mentioned above. Among the other artists Bromberg was able to bring on board are John Hiatt ("Ride on out a Ways"), Dr. John ("You Don't Wanna Make Me Mad"), Los Lobos ("The Long Goodbye") and Vince Gill (co-writer with Guy Clark of "Lookout Mountain Girl"). Linda Ronstadt, who sings on the chorus, proposed the old Brook Benton hit "It's Just a Matter of Time," which is a fine tune; it doesn't work here, however, because it is beyond Bromberg's modest vocal range. Even a more gifted singer would have hesitated to take on a Benton standard. The title song, from Bill Withers, is an improvement, but you'd still rather hear Withers.

Even so, Use Me is a decent record which -- my own ultimate test -- you'll want to hear more than once or twice. In other words, its pleasures don't soon evaporate. I also give high credit to Bromberg for resisting the lure of singer-songwriterdom, choosing instead to dare the dangers of song interpretation. In that regard, even the occasional failure only engenders admiration. Rare today is the performer who loves a song more than he loves himself.

music review by
Jerome Clark

23 July 2011

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