You can hear years of experience coming through David Bromberg’s quivering voice on his latest album, Use Me (Appleseed Records), slated for release July 12. To warm up crowds across the country, Bromberg is traveling from California to Canada promoting the record. He’ll stop at the Westcott Theater, 524 Westcott St., on Friday, July 1, for an 8 p.m. show with opening act You and Yours. Tickets for the all-ages concert are $25 in advance, $35 at the door, available at www. thewestcottheater.com and at Sound Garden, 310 W. Jefferson St.
Bromberg’s latest effort brings a creative twist to recording and collaborating, as explained in the CD’s liner notes: “I called up some people with whom I had varying degrees of relationships and asked each of them to write a song for me. This takes brass. It takes even more brass to ask each of them to produce me doing their song, but I asked that as well. I was very pleased that almost every person that I asked agreed to write (or if not a writer, to choose) a song and produce me performing it. Thus: Use Me.”
Not only was Bromberg used in these select musicians’ songs, but he also employed their talents and studios to bring them to life. Rather than mix tracks sent between musicians electronically, Bromberg went to most musicians’ preferred studios to give each track their regional feel. It also sent Bromberg back to his days as a professional accompanist when he would play alongside artists such as Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, The Eagles, Ringo Starr and Carly Simon.
Although Bromberg has released his own original material, to place him next to the artists on Use Me was a brilliant way to explore a variety of genres, feature many top-shelf musicians and put him back into what may be his most comfortable zone – playing alongside another great talent. The album features Levon Helm, Dr. John, Keb’ Mo’, Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt and, perhaps the most interesting collaboration, Widespread Panic on the jam track “Old Neighborhood.”
Each song brings a distinctly different feel to life, reflecting the collaborator more than Bromberg himself. The album opener, “Tongue” with Helm, makes use of the drum technique that Bromberg admittedly admires in his notes about the song: “I’ve always thought that the best way to establish the sound that I like on a snare drum is to play a recording of Levon’s for a drummer and an engineer and say that’s how I want it to sound.” Helm is tight behind the kit and the horns accent the swinging song to give it an old-time feel with Bromberg’s bluesy vocals leading it.
“Bring It With You When You Come” brings a distinct bluegrass feel to the record and the follow-up track “Blue is Fallin’” continues in the same vein with a prominent fiddle solo to enhance the dirt-floor, downhome feel. Things get a little funkier with Dr. John on piano on “You Don’t Wanna Make Me Mad.” Dr. John and Bromberg used to work together on sessions produced by Arif Mardin for Atlantic years ago and that familiarity makes its way into the song.
“The Long Goodbye” can’t be mistaken for anything other than a Los Lobos collaboration with David Hidalgo on accordion as it sways. And Widespread Panic leaves no room for confusion as well with their distinct, big, grooving sound. Apparently it was a highlight for Bromberg, who comments in the liner notes, “It was a big charge playing with all of them. They treated me like one of the band. Jimmy Herring is an awesome guitar player. Trading licks with him on stage with such a cooking band was heaven.”
The final track of the album is the only low point. It’s difficult to listen as Bromberg’s shaky vocals try to cover the untouchable voice of Bill Withers on “Use Me.” Although the backing band brings the funk, it’s lacking and outside of Bromberg’s otherwise more folkie-bluegrass comfort zone. This version is simply too laid back; while it’s often best for a covering artist to transform the song into something more their own, Bromberg can’t seem to do it justice.
Despite this misstep, the overall album is both engaging and appropriate given Bromberg’s background. It should be welcomed by fans who were without Bromberg for 17 years during his self-imposed recording hiatus, which ended in 2007 with the release of Try Me One More Time (Appleseed). Bromberg’s show at the Westcott—with a backing band that includes Butch Amiot on vocals and bass, Mitch Corbin on vocals, mandolin, guitar and fiddle, and Nate Grower on fiddle and mandolin—should bring an intriguing mix and a wealth of experience to the theater’s stage.