The last time I heard David Bromberg was back in my bright college days, when a few of my friends were quite taken with his “Bullfrog Blues,” the kind of endless shaggy-dog joke song that is amusing the first two times you hear it. After that . . . I dunno, but after the fourth go-round I began to wonder if “Bullfrog Blues” hadn’t been the sound Charles Whitman heard in his head while he was picking off pedestrians from the top of the Texas Tower. That wasn’t the only Bromberg song I heard, of course, but for all his impeccable musicianship and wide-ranging tastes, there was just something about Bromberg that made keeping up with his records a little less than a matter of life or death.
Are you still with me? Well, forget everything I just said. I went to Bromberg’s show at the Count Basie Theater on a windy, slushy Friday night, and I emerged from the concert ready to buy every single David Bromberg CD I could lay hands on. One of the highlights of a show filled with highlights was his solo performance of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” and while the clip above isn’t from the Count Basie show, it’s very much in the spirit of the performance.
(And as long as I’m talking about this past weekend’s great show, let me sing the praises of the Count Basie Theater, a grand old space with superb acoustics. How nice that it’s named after a real musician instead of succumbing to the same corporate crapification that afflicts us with the Izod Arena, the Kaopectate Arts Center and the Centrum Silver Center. All right, I made up those last two names. They aren’t real. Not yet, anyway.)
The single biggest change in Bromberg’s sound is, quite simply, his voice. He’s finally got one. In the past, Bromberg vied with Leo Kottke for the title of Folk Musician Whose Singing Is Most Like To Make You Realize Bob Dylan’s Voice Isn’t All That Bad. Well, Dylan should have followed Bromberg’s example and taken some serious voice lessons. Not only can Bromberg sing, but his voice now has that chest-bursting fullness B.B. King can still deliver on nights when he’s in front of an audience that wants to hear some real music instead of just bask in the aura of An Authentic Blues Legend. On the second number of the evening, the jokey blues “I’ll Take You Back,” Bromberg was truly belting it out, and several times during the show he hit high notes that would have been a couple of stratospheres beyond his reach when he was about a third of his present age.
“Ecelctic” has always been the default setting for any attempt to describe Bromberg, and eclectic the show certainly was: a bit of bluegrass, a bit of Irish folk, a bit of country and a bit of N’awlins, all seasoning hefty servings of blues. All of it was played with elegant virtuosity and welcome flashes of wit, and by the time the show closed with Dr. John’s “Such a Night,” I could say that this had been a truly satisfying and engaging show.