Hear It First: David Bromberg Band, 'Big Road'

by Henry Carrigan (@henry.carrigan), Folk Alley

David Bromberg Band Big Road Hear It First Folk Alley Henry Carrigan

Listening to David Bromberg and his band’s Big Road is like driving on the open road with the windows down, letting the breezes of various musical styles wash over you. Skittering fiddles drive the tunes around winding curves of bluegrass and jazz, scampering pedal steel steers the tunes through the western hills and southern hollers of country, and driving, propulsive guitars stretch out on the straightaways. The expansive sound of Big Road sweeps us along with it, and with Bromberg as the driver we’re in for a great adventure and one of the best trips of our lives.

Multi-instrumentalist Bromberg knows how to have fun playing music, and he gives each of band members a chance to drive the music around. There’s a joyous sense of camaraderie on the album that permeates the music; the spirit that animated the players while they were working on the album in the studio is palpable, so that the music touches us on every level. Big Road, produced by Larry Campbell, features the current lineup of Bromberg’s band: Mark Cosgrove on guitar, mandolin, and vocals; Nate Grower on fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and vocals; Josh Kanusky on drums and vocals; and, Suavek Zaniesienko on bass and vocals. In addition, Dan Walker plays piano, organ, and accordion; and, in the horn section Birch Johnson plays trombone, Jon-Erik Kellso blows trumpet, Matt Koza plays tenor sax, and Bob Stewart plays tuba; producer Campbell adds mandolin and pedal steel.

The album opens with the title track, a jump-blues, New Orleans walking jazz of the Tommy Johnson-penned tune. The tune is propelled by Bromberg’s and Cosgrove’s guitar solos; following Cosgrove’s solo on the first instrumental bridge, Grower responds with a spirited fiddle solo. Stewart’s tuba provides the rhythmic framework for the tune, and Bromberg says, “I really love what it feels like to play and sing with the horn section with the tuba.” “Big Road” launches the album into the stratosphere, where we remain until the album’s final note, for even when the tempo slows down on a song the dynamic richness of melody and harmony and vibrant musical sketches carry us upward and out of ourselves.

The country folk rambler “Lovin’ of the Game,” penned by Pat and Victoria Garvey, rushes headlong down the road, driven by Campbell’s steel, and featuring Walker’s animated accordion solo, followed by Grower’s scampering fiddle solo and Cosgrove’s ringing mandolin solo. The driving tune evokes the devil-may-care, carefree spirit of the lyrics: “Oh, where I’m goin’ has no end/And what I’m seekin’ has no name/And the treasure’s not the takin’/It’s the lovin’ of the game.”

The country blues weeper with a twist “Just Because You Didn’t Answer,” written by Thomas Bishop Burke, rides along Walker’s tasteful and elegant piano, featuring a solo that plays call and response with Bromberg’s guitar solo on the instrumental bridge. “One of the reasons I love this song,” says Bromberg, “is that I’ve never heard another song that says what this one does.” It’s followed on the album by a Bromberg original “George, Merle, & Conway,” a country shuffle that opens with Grower’s cascading fiddle. Bromberg captures the aching character of country weepers and the universal appeal of many country songs as he pays tribute to these three country greats: “If I hear George, Merle, or Conway/I’ll break right down, and cry.” Bromberg recalls: “It’s a song I wrote at The Egg in Albany after Mark Cosgrove and I were discussing how affecting the songs of these three singers are. Some people think country songs like the ones George, Merle, and Conway wrote and sang, are over the top. Some of them are, but really, life itself is often over the top, and why write about something mundane?”

Bromberg shines on “Mary Jane,” a spare folk tune that features his vocals floating along the shimmering notes of his sprightly guitar picking. He says that he learned the song when he was at Columbia University in the ‘60s. “The guitar part is a neat arrangement with independent bass and treble…I added a couple of licks here and there, but the guitar part shows that the author was a student of Reverend Gary Davis by one simple lick at the top of the tune.”

Bromberg and the band deliver a satisfying instrumental medley of country and bluegrass tunes: Bob Wills’ “Maiden’s Prayer,” the traditional “Blackberry Blossom,” and the fiddle tune “Katy Hill.” This trio prepares the way for another Bromberg original, and in many ways the highlight of the album, “Diamond Lil,” a song on which the band gets to stretch out, each member taking expansive solos. The heartbreakingly beautiful sonic unity of the song cloaks its mournful, though somewhat ironic, tone in an exquisite musical splendor achieved by letting each member of the band follow his own path on solos. “Diamond Lil” recalls the brilliance of Bromberg’s live shows in which he and the band improvise on many songs, following each other’s lead to produce transcendent experiences.

Travel down the Big Road with David Bromberg and his band. You’ll never be the same, for this every song on this album astonishes with its musicianship, its musical unity, its palpable spirit of joy and fun and sheer love of music. Big Road is, without a doubt, one of the best albums of the year.

Big Road is out this Friday, 4/17 via Red House Records and available for pre-order: HERE

Upcoming tour dates (subject to change)

07.09: The Clayton Opera House - Clayton, NY

07.10: City Winery - New York, NY

07.11: Mauch Chunk Opera House - Jim Thorpe, PA

07.12: AMP by Strathmore Ctr - No. Bethesda, MD

07.15: City Winery Philadelphia - Philadelphia, PA

07.17: The Stephen Talkhouse - Amagansett, NY

07.18: The Old Whaling Church - Edgartown, MA

07.26: Susquehanna Folk Festival - Lewisberry, PA

07.31: Stone Mountain Arts Center - Brownfield, ME

08.01: Pythian Opera House - Boothbay Harbor, ME

08.19: Full Moon Resort - Big Indian, NY *DUO: David & Larry Campbell

09.11: The Colonial Theatre Phoenixville - Phoenixville, PA *BIG BAND

09.12: The Capitol Theatre - Port Chester, NY *75th BDAY

09.13: The Egg Performing Arts Center - Albany, NY *BIG BAND

09.16: Auburn Public Theater - Auburn, NY

09.17: St. Johnsbury Academy - St. Johnsbury, VT

09.18: Greenwich Odeum - East Greenwich, RI

09.19: The Cabot - Beverly, MA

09.24: Old Town School - Chicago, IL

09.25: The Ark - Ann Arbor, MI

09.26: G.A.R. Hall - Peninsula, OH

09.27: Oaks Theater - Oakmont, PA

09.29: JCC of Greater Rochester - Rochester, NY

10.08: Ram’s Head on Stage - Annapolis, MD

10.09: Natalie’s - Columbus, OH

10.10: The Acorn - Three Oaks, MI

10.11: Buskirk-Chumley Theater - Bloomington, IN

10.13: Evanston SPACE - Evanston, IL

10.14: Wildey Theatre - Edwardsville, IL

10.15: Barrymore Theatre - Madison, WI

10.17: Dakota - Minneapolis, MN

10.18: Dakota - Minneapolis, MN

11.20: Suffolk Theater - Riverhead, NY

11.21: The Birchmere - Alexandria, VA *BIG BAND:

12.02: The Aggie - Ft. Collins, CO

12.04: The Filling Station - Bozeman, MT

12.05: The Top Hat - Missoula, MT

12.08: The Shedd Institute - Eugene, OR

12.09: Aladdin Theater - Portland, OR

12.10: Neptune Theatre - Seattle, WA

12.17: Spire Perf Ctr - Plymouth, MA

12.18: Infinity Hall - Hartford, CT

12.19: Levon Helm Studios - Woodstock, NY

12.20: Shea Theater Arts Center - Turners Falls, MA

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