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David Bromberg
Columbia 31104
Released: March 1972
Chart Peak: #194
Weeks Charted: 2

David BrombergSince his work with Dylan on Self Portrait and New Morning and his subsequent promotion by friends like George Harrison and Dylan himself, Bromberg has become a giant among peers and a target for the admiration of all who have been fortunate enough to experience his performances. He is very much more than a technician of the acoustic and electric guitars he played on all those other artists' albums; some say that he is the most exciting talent to emerge from the rejuvenated Village club scene since Dylan, and I find myself agreeing. This man from Tarrytown, New York, is a brilliant guitarist, a superbly perceptive lyricist, and a performer graced with that rare ability to take you around with him through a whole spectrum of moods from deep personal blues to hilarious exercises in wry humor, stopping along the way for traditional blues interpretations and tumbling instrumental country rags. He's candid and easy and charming, big and gangling and kind of ugly with his face twisting up inta all manner of goofball grimaces as he pulls astounding notes from his guitar or breaks off in the middle of a song for an appropriate ad lib or a gag or explanation. And his first album is very nice.

David Bromberg - David Bromberg
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It's a gentle album, devoid of electric jive and heavy production; it lets the feelings through. As far as I can make out, it was recorded half live and half in the studio. It covers the ground laid out above.

Side one opens with "Last song For Shelby Jean," a plaintive admission of defeat in love carried by a soft economical guitar with Bromberg almost whispering the lines. He has that quality of talk-singing like the old men of the rural blues from whom he draws so much inspiration -- like Blind Willie McTell, from whose version of "Dehlia" Bromberg adapted as his own. Dehlia was a prostitute murdered by her man Curtis, who wound up serving 99, and writing the song. Bromberg treats it with love, and the result is a high point on this album. With Bromberg, as with the best of contemporary musicians, you have no feeling of him jumping from one hat to the other. His own musical self infuses everything with a special quality

He focuses in on cameos of crucial moments of his or someone else's life with "serious" songs, like the traumatic teenage experience with a horribly scarred Spanish whore in "Sammy's Song," which could be one scene from "Tom Thumb's Blues"; the same pain, but much more directly expressed.

There are instrumentals and instrumental passages that point to Nashville (Skyline): there's "Lonesome Dave's Lovesick Blues," a real banjo-pickin' stomp; there are exquisitely mournful acoustic blues variations where the depth of Bromberg's technique is revealed, and there are his spoofs.

Tom Lehrer was a sick comic singer late in the Fabulous Fifties (remember "We All Will Go Together" and "Poisoning The Pigeons In The Park"?). Well, the comic Bromberg is a dead ringer for him. He has that same sense of twisted irony, even the same voice and style of delivery. "Suffer To Sing The Blues," with horn backing, chomps along a story of ridiculous misfortune, and "The Holdup" (co-written with George Harison), is a beautiful performers' mock slap in the face of their paying customers.

So let's hope David Bromberg gets around some more. If he comes your way, go see him because he is, quite simply, a gas. And who was that playing harp?

- Patrick Carr, Rolling Stone, 3/16/72.

Bonus Reviews!

For more than 10 years, David Bromberg has performed and recorded with stars such as Chubby Checker, Jerry Jeff Walker, Bob Dylan and produced albums for John Hartford. During all these years and sessions and performances, he's won the admiration of all those he's played with. Now he's finally emerged withhis own first LP, with people like Randy Scruggs, David Amram and John Hartford and his band providing the back-up.

Listening to the album was my first contact with David Bromberg, his unique style of talking-singing and his extraordinary guitary playing. It evoked a soulful sadness which was not easily shaken or forgotten. His twanging voice is sometimes a little reminiscent of Dylan, or Buzzy Linhart, or even Josh White. Still, in the final analysis, it is definitely just David Bromberg.

A blues guitar solo, "Mississippi Blues," has only two lines of lyrics, but they say it all... "I got the blues so bad, it hurts my feet to walk, it settled on my brain, and hurts my tongue to talk." That probably sums it all up as succinctly as it has been summed up before. But there are other blues songs, such as "Last Song For Shelby Jean," about a love affair that's ended, even though "I'll miss you at night, I'm not made of stone... go home. I need some time alone." Combined with that Dylanesque style of singing, is Bromberg's rich plaintive acoustical guitar playing backed up by Steve Burgh on bass and David Amram on French horn.

On the other end of the spectrum is a bluegrass spectacular, "Arkansas Traveler" (not to be confused with the old traditional song), which may feature a bluegrass first -- a saxophone played by Richard Grando. It's enough to set all toes to tapping and hands to thigh slapping.

A weak point was the contemporary rock sound of "The Holdup," co-authored by George Harrison. The arrangement is hodge-podge, combined with sound effects and further weakened by lyrics which never seem either to be truth or satire. One cut that comes off much better is "Suffer to Sing the Blues," one man's realization that you "do a happy song if you're glad, a protest song if you're mad, but you got to lose to be able to sing the blues."

Probably the most unusual cut on the whole album and the highest point is "Sammy's Song," which is the story of 16-year-old Sammy taken to a Spanish brothel by his uncle, left there to make his own choice and find his own manhood, according to the older man's style. But Sammy, choosing the prettiest girl available, finds he's hiding a past which has physically, as well as emotionally, scarred her, and Sammy reaches out, "brain is numb,"... "silent screaming in his skull,"... "scars surround him"... "without grace of tears or sickness, Sammy sucks it all inside and shakes, and shakes some more."

This is an album which builds a picture of an artist which will come back to visit your mind and heart again and again.

- Beverly Magid, Words & Music, 5-72.

David Bromberg has long been known as one of the top session musicians in the business, gaining particular fame as a result of his work with Bob Dylan. On his debut LP, he showed a personality of his own and this continues with his second effort. From "Sharon" to the "Medley of Irish Fiddle Tunes" (played on guitar) to a fine rendition of "Tennessee Waltz" to a moving talk version of "Mr. Bojangles," this is a top set.

- Billboard, 1972.

Bromberg is a session man supreme in the blues-folk-rock-country field and gets his own chance upfront here. It's a combination live and studio album that shows Bromberg's sincere and deep appreciation of the blues (country) and country (ethnic) fields. "The Holdup" is a strange ersatz Western badman ballad by Bromberg and George Harrison that sounds like neither.

- Hit Parader, 7/73.

David Bromberg was already a well-known folk instrumentalist before this album proved he was also a top-notch songwriter and an appealing vocalist as well. The styles mix folk, blues, rock, and jug-band music, and the songs alternate from the painfully sensitive ("Sammy's Song") to the rib-tickling "The Holdup," which was cowritten by George Harrison.

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Known as the consummate "musician's musician," multi-instrumentalist David Bromberg is a virtual jukebox of American roots music. Equally at home in folk, blues, rock, jazz, country, bluegrass, Texas swing and Irish traditional, a Bromberg album is like a musical stew. Drawn to the Greenwich Village folk scene of the mid-'60s, Bromberg -- who was studying to be a musicologist -- dropped out of Columbia University to work full time as a performer. His proficiency as a guitarist combined with his eclectic range of styles led to a substantial career as a session musican, appearing on close to 80 albums for the likes of Bob Dylan, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ringo Starr, Phoebe Snow, and others. Following a stunning last-minute performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, Bromberg was offered his own recording contract with Columbia. His debut, David Bromberg, showcases all of his influences with a mostly acoustic album of blues, folk, rock and a tune co-written with George Harrison ("The Holdup"). * * * *

- Brian Escamilla, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

"David Bromberg 101" for novices, this debut album that still holds up well captures the profoundly underrated talents of this storyteller-cum-musician's musician who previously earned credits assisting the likes of Bob Dylan and Jerry Jeff Walker. Deftly combining folk, bluegrass, rock and blues, his guitar work is exceptional, his performances energetic and his style, nothing uncompromised. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

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