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Rerelease Review: David Bromberg, Wanted Dead Or Alive/Midnight On The Water

David Bromberg
Wanted Dead Or Alive/Midnight On The Water
[BGO (2010)]

With their masterfully executed mix of America’s musical roots, the albums released by David Bromberg in the mid-1970s remain as much fun as they were more than a third of a century ago. The remixing and pairing of Wanted Dead Or Alive (1974), his third solo outing, and its studio follow-up, Midnight On The Water (1975), brings together the two albums on which the former session guitarist/fiddler (for Bob Dylan, Jerry Jeff Walker, Chubby Checkers, and others) has continued to build his still-sustaining career.

Photo by Craig Harris © 2011.

Though his work with Dylan (on New Morning, Self-Portrait, and the forgettable Dylan, which used discarded tracks from the previous sessions) had led to a contract with Columbia Records and members of the Grateful Dead had played on his first two albums, his roots-oriented approach was obscured by the soft pop-dominated hit parade of the early-1970s. Those who craved and understood great musicianship loved those albums, but sales were nowhere up to major label standards. Reaching into what he does best, Bromberg came up with an album full of spirit, high energy and musical diversity. Opening with a galloping reprisal of “The Holdup,” his collaboration with George Harrison, Bromberg and cohorts, including the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, Keith Godchaux and Bill Kreutzmann and backup singers Tracy Nelson and the Sweet Inspirations, rarely let up. Bessie Smith’s 1929 blues hit, “Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair,” Leiber and Stoller’s “Kansas City,” and a medley of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” and L. Jordan’s “Church Bell Blues” are resurrected with new life. A Dylan tune is thrown in, as well – “Wallflower,” which, although it had previously been recorded by Doug Sahm, with Bromberg on guitar, did not appear on a Dylan album until the release of The Bootleg Series – Volumes 1-3 (Rare And Unreleased) in 1991. While his vocals were anything but luscious, Bromberg’s deep, growl-like singing made every word heartfelt. Showing the depths of his songwriting with four self-composed tunes (“Someone Else’s Blues,” “Danger Man,” “The Main Street Moan,” and “The New Lee Highway Blues”), Bromberg uses the guitar picking styles that he had learned as a student and protégé of bluesman Reverend Gary Davis as springboards for discovery.

Produced by Brian Ahern (Anne Murray, Emmylou Harris) and Bernie Leadon (formerly with the Flying Burrito Brothers and The Eagles), Midnight On The Water remains a milestone in the history of Americana. Tighter arrangements and a well-rehearsed band made this a genre-hopping smorgasbord of bluegrass, country, 1950s pop, and Celtic fiddle tunes. Showing equal dexterity on guitar and fiddle, Bromberg frames 10 cover tunes and 1 original (“The Joke’s On Me”) with a historic collection of awe-inspiring players and singers. Members of his then-touring band, including pennywhistle/clarinet player Billy Novick, violin/viola player Evan Stover, guitarist/fiddler/bassist Hugh McDonald, drummer Steve Mosley and cornet/trumpet/mellophone player and arranger Peter Ecklund, set a foundation that continues to stand 35 years later, while an amazing array of guests including Jesse Ed Davis (guitar), Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack (piano), Buddy Cage and “Red” Rhodes (pedal steel) and backup singers Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Doyle Lawson and Ricky Skaggs, add the spice.

—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)

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