David Bromberg launched his neo-string band show on Thursday at WAMC’s Linda Norris Auditorium with his usual multi-instrumental glee, joyously jumping from instrument to instrument with the vocals of “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” serving simply as framework for the excitement of sheer playing.
Thereafter, having engaged the audience completely in the mood, the joy was more song- and style-specific, about the love of the blues in the squint-grimace, bent-note shuffle “Who’s Loving You Tonight,” the lament “Dark Hollow” and the country croon of “Last Date” and its cousin-in-loss “Summer Wages.” They were part of an early crowd-pleasing run spiced by the start of a nearly show-long visit by fiddler Jay Ungar.
The flavors of a Bromberg show comprise a sort of standard menu, spanning most strands of American music. While he seemed happiest in hoedown fiddle fests or angry brag-about-the-breakup blues, he had, as usual, impressive command of much else, especially with guests Ungar, Ungar’s singing wife Molly Mason and the three singers of opening act Angel Band supplying swingtime spice and emotional/sonic resonance.
When Mason lit up the swingtime “Take me Back to Yazoo,” it was 1935 again. When Angel Band chimed in, offstage, as Bromberg sang “Drown In My Own Tears” alone, it was goosebumps time. “Tears” followed Bromberg’s strong solo rendition of Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh (It Takes a Train to Cry)” — brief but convincing proof that he can get it done all alone.
Cooking up big fun
When everything was cooking, it was big fun, as in the eight-piece roar of “Who Do You Love” and the jaunty multi-fiddle excursion that followed and found Ungar and Bromberg injecting “Dixie,” “Yankee Doodle,” “The Sunshine of Your Love” and other incongruous tunes into a bluegrass blitz. Ungar, multi-instrumentalist Bob Tangrea and fiddler Jeff Wisor all rose the occasion when Bromberg urged “play it again!” after most solos.
A standing ovation was earned by fill-in drummer Sam Zucchini, so solid back in the pocket that Bromberg never even had to look back at him, though bassist Butch Amyot offered cues from time to time.
Bromberg and band supported openers the Angel Band, a sort of Yankee Chicks trio of his wife, Nancy Josephson, with fellow singers Jen Schonwald and Kathleen Weber. Dixie Chicks’ producer Lloyd Maines produced Angel Band’s “With Roots & Wings” album, they proudly announced, and the album supplied most of the tunes in their 45-minute, “we’re just the opening act” set.
Most songs had sweet a cappella intros or codas, from the opening Calypso/Cajun “Hey, Papa Legba”/“Sing This Song for You” to the rousing tambourine gospel of “Jump Back in the Ditch” to close.
A few tunes tarnished tasty melodies with clunky words, although their best — the tender “Hold Me Angel” and “Coming Home to You,” all lively zip and tangled fiddles — balanced beautifully. “Drown in the Fountain of Good,” an ambling blues, was spooky-good.
A supportive sideman, mostly, Bromberg only asserted himself in concise soloing, although his contribution to the majestic mountain folk of “Fly Away Home, Little Bird” was an intrusive surge of revved coda, much faster than the cozy preceding tune.