David Bromberg goes beyond the blues on eclectic CD

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David Bromberg’s new CD, Only Slightly Mad, isn’t the record he wanted to make, and he’s glad about that. You should be, too.

You see, Bromberg—after a glittering career as a multi-instrument session player, modest success as a solo artist, and his relatively recent emergence as the reigning expert on American-made violins—had somehow got it in his head that he wanted to make a blues record. And not just any blues record, but a Chicago-style effort modelled after the classic recordings of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Buddy Guy.

Now, that’s not a bad idea. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, the kickoff track from the new disc, makes it perfectly clear that Bromberg has earned the right to play—and perhaps more importantly, sing—the blues. It’s a gritty, funky, and emotionally convincing effort. But what follows includes Canadian folk-rock (David Wiffen’s “Drivin’ Wheel”), ersatz sea chanteys (Bromberg’s own “The Strongest Man Alive”), classic Nashville country (the Floyd Cramer/Conway Twitty ballad “Last Date”), vintage bluegrass (the mandolin showcase “Monroe’s Hornpipe”), and more.

Like Bromberg’s mid-’70s efforts for the Columbia label, Only Slightly Mad would be a sprawling mess were it not for the easy way that the different genres slide into each other. And for both ease and mess Bromberg says he has only one man to blame, producer Larry Campbell. The latter, it seems, helmed a couple of tracks on the singer, guitarist, and mandolinist’s previous recording, Use Me, and the experience was a happy one.

“Larry wrote these great horn parts and conducted just a flawless session,” Bromberg explains, on the line from his home in Wilmington, Delaware. “But when I approached him and asked if he would produce a whole CD of me doing Chicago-style blues, his response was “I’d love to do a CD with you, but I’d really prefer to do one like the old David Bromberg LPs with everything including the kitchen sink on them.’

“Up until that moment I didn’t know he’d listened to those records, but he had them all, and he used to come to my concerts. I had no idea! So after thinking about it for a few seconds I realized that he was the very best guy I could ever find to produce me doing another CD like that, because he had a deep understanding of all the kinds of music that I like to do.”

Still, Bromberg wasn’t without reservations about Campbell’s back-to-the-future course. “One of the things that I discovered back then was that putting all these different kinds of music on one recording was commercial suicide,” he says. “The record companies didn’t know where to advertise, the radio stations didn’t know what they should play, the record stores didn’t know what bin to put the records in—it was just really counterproductive. But, you know, of late there’s a lot of people who’ve kind of picked up the idea, some of them from me, some of them doubtless on their own. And so you find more people doing a variety of music that they now call Americana.”

Bromberg, apparently, was just slightly ahead of his time. And now, after a long hiatus from performing and the release of Only Slightly Mad, it’s the perfect moment for him to come back—even if he doesn’t have the blues.

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