David Bromberg has had a long and storied musical career. He performed at the historic Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 and released a series of respected rock-blues albums for the Columbia label during that decade. He gradually began to explore the country and bluegrass idioms as time passed and began playing the violin himself. He retired from the rigors of the road in the early 1980’s and he and his wife set up shop in Wilmington, Delaware where David sells and repairs violins.
In 2007 he released the solo album, Try Me One More Time. This album was nominated for a Grammy award in the Best Traditional Folk Recording Category and prompted Bromberg to tour on a limited basis. It also prompted him to re-release Live New York City 1982.
Live New York City 1982 is first and foremost a bluegrass album. The Dave Bromberg Quartet consists of Bromberg (vocals, guitar, fiddle, and mandolin), Jeff Wisor (mandolin, harmony vocals), Butch Amiot (bass, harmony vocals) and Gene Johnson (mandolin, fiddle, harmony vocals). Classic bluegrass is usually all stringed instruments and the David Bromberg Quartet fits the bill.
The vocals are more than competent, but it is the instrumental interplay that is spectacular. The opening ten minute medley gives each group member the opportunity to shine and fit their sound together. Bromberg is at home on both the mandolin and fiddle and he melds with the other members of the group creating an ebb and flow of sound. Whether it is one mandolin and two fiddles or two fiddles and one mandolin playing together, the sound is full and harmonious.
The first part of the album is strictly bluegrass. The Bob Dylan tune, “Wallflower,” features some spectacular fiddle playing by Bromberg. Dylan originally wrote this song from a country perspective, but here Bromberg give it a while new feel.
“Ookpit Waltz” is a beautiful instrumental song. It is a ballad without words. The sound evokes emotions without the benefit of lyrics. A second medley consisting of “Sally Gooden/Old Joe Clark/Wheel Hoss” features dueling mandolins with a fiddle in support. Somewhere bluegrass founder Bill Monroe is smiling.
There are two songs that wander off in a blues direction. “Midnight Hour Blues” is stripped down to its basics as Bromberg basically accompanies himself. This performance harkens back to his performances of thirty years ago. “The Creeper’s Blues” has a fuller sound and is a sort of country-blues hybrid.
There are thirteen songs contained on this album but one of the most memorable is “Fairfax County.” I would call this six minute opus more of a folk song as it tells a wistful tale of love, loss and death. I can’t get Phil Ochs, “The Highwayman,” out of my mind when I listen to this song.
In the final analysis, Live New York 1982 is a feast of sound and song, mostly within a bluegrass setting. It is nice to have David Bromberg back, especially with an album that is an excellent and enjoyable listen.