David Bromberg always strikes me as one of those artists you’ve heard a hundred times without realising you’ve even heard him…perhaps because his extensive talents as a multi-instrumentalist have seen him credited on hundreds of albums by hoards of famous acts from the early 1970s to pretty much the present day. Among them there are names like Bob Dylan, Carly Simon, Tom Rush, Tom Paxton…Country music superstars like Willie Nelson…and even rock music royalty…performing on some of the solo recordings of former Beatles members. Even if you’ve less familiar with Bromberg’s own solo-ish output, The Player: A Retrospective is by no means a difficult listen.
The full on east meets west blues-funk epic of ‘Sharon’ kick starts the album, which after six minutes, rolls into ‘The Holdup’; a good fun, cowboy movie-styled “George Harrison” version of a song which actually bookends the record…”the Dead” version concludes the album. Of course, what comes in between these diverse takes is also pretty good.
There is ‘Yankee’s Revenge’, a toe-tapping medley which really showcases Bromberg’s abilities as an outstanding instrumentalist; this sits comfortably alongside numbers where his well-crafted narratives and cuttingly honest lyrics are at the fore, see ‘The Jokes on Me’ and ‘Sammy’s Song’:
“Somewhere in the south of Spain, Sammy, still sixteen, goes with his uncle for a ride The sun is high…Sailing through the city, For to see the sights and talking sex Sammy’s sitting tall, The sun is high His uncle brings him to a brothel, Being big he buys a drink…Rum and coke, Don’t taste too bad Having brought him to the brink, His uncle leaves him with his drink Rum and coke, Don’t taste too bad”.
While folk, rock and country influences mingle throughout, blues is another key ingredient of this retrospective. As such, Blind Willie McTell’s ‘Statesboro Blues/Church Bell Blues’, (Bromberg original) ‘The Main Street Moan’ and the traditional ‘Dehlia’ are all fittingly brought to the table. However, it is perhaps Bromberg’s rendition of (former band mate) Jerry Jeff Walker’s ‘Mr Bojangles’ which takes the prize on this album’s track list. It is simple; one man and one guitar, performing to a live audience; it is both sensitive and powerful, being talked, rather than sung as he tells listener(s) about the ‘real’ Mr Bojangles, presenting an entirely new dimension to a well-known classic.
47 PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED TRACKS from DAVE VAN RONK, SLEEPY JOHN ESTES, KATE McGARRIGLE, RICK DANKO, RAMBLIN’ JACK ELLIOTT, TIFT MERRITT . . .
Nestled in the quaint upstate town of Saratoga Springs, New York is Caffè Lena, the oldest continuously operating folk music coffeehouse in the US. Opened by Lena Spencer in 1960, this tiny room has played host to influential artists across diverse genres of music; traditional folk, blues, singer-songwriters, jazz and bluegrass. Luckily, many performances were caught on tape through the years, offering the listener a thrilling seat inside this hallowed venue. ‘Live At Caffè Lena’, a 3-CD box set, the result of years of investigative research, contains 47 tracks, all released for the very first time, alongside previously unpublished photographs. Images include selections from the archive of esteemed photographer Joe Alper, who captured many iconic, intimate portraits from the folk era of the 1960s.
Live At Caffè Lena documents an important folk universe that was and is still happening in upstate New York, a story heretofore largely untold. The release of this collection comes at an auspicious time in light of renewed interest in the New York folk scene of the 60s as depicted in the forthcoming Coen Brothers film, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis.’ The film is loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s 2005 memoir ‘The Mayor of Macdougal Street.’ Van Ronk, a Caffè Lena regular, served as a mentor to many artists, some who would go on to eclipse his fame. His 1974 recording of “Gaslight Rag” featured on the box set references the Gaslight Café, a famed Greenwich Village venue that along with Caffè Lena was a catalyst for the folk music revival.
Caffè Lena embodied the spirit of the folk boom, the era and its artistry, building a reputation as a hotbed of creativity and connection. It was also a safe haven and nurturing space for artists, its atmosphere cultivated personally by Lena Spencer herself. She would graciously house wayward artists, sometimes for months at a time. But she was not merely a host. She championed artists, from Bob Dylan as early as 1961 all the way through the 80s until her passing. Her passion for identifying and promoting talent is evident throughout this 3-CD set. That Caffè Lena is still open for business tonight is a testament to her legacy.
The producers are Steve Rosenthal (Three-time GRAMMY Award-winner, owner of The Magic Shop and The Living Room Music Club in NYC), Jocelyn Arem (Director of the CaffèLena History Project). Liner notes: Holly George-Warren & Robert Burke Warren, Scott Goldman, Michael Eck
Live At Caffè Lena: Music From America’s Legendary Coffeehouse, 1967-2013 is available Worldwide on Tompkins Square TSQ 2967 Distributed by INgrooves in North America, Cargo UK for Europe, FUSE for Australia.
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Bob Dylan at Caffè Lena, 1962 (photo by Joe Alper)
Track list for Live At Caffè Lena: Music From America’s Legendary Coffeehouse, 1967-2013
01 Intro by Lena Spencer / Guy Carawan Cripple Creek 1970
02 Hedy West Shady Grove 1968
03 Intro by Lena Spencer / Sleepy John Estes Holy Spirit 1974
04 Frank Wakefield and Friends Will The Circle Be Unbroken 1971
05 Jean Ritchie West Virginia Mine Disaster 1969
06 Billy Faier Hunt The Wren 1967
07 Greenbriar Boys Hit Parade of Love 1968
08 Mike Seeger O Death 1971
09 Jacqui and Bridie Hello Friend 1974
10 Tom Paxton Morning Again 1968
11 David Amram Little Mama 1974
12 Patrick Sky Reality Is Bad Enough 1971
13 Rosalie Sorrels Travelin’ Lady 1974
14 Smoke Dawson Devil’s Dream 1968
15 Utah Phillips The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia 1974
16 Michael Cooney Thyme It Is A Precious Thing 1974
17 Kate McGarrigle and Roma Baran Caffè Lena 1972
01 Intro by Lena Spencer / Dave Van Ronk Gaslight Rag 1974
02 Jerry Jeff Walker Mr. Bojangles 1968
03 Barbara Dane Mama Yancey’s Advice / Love With a Feeling 1968
04 Roy Book Binder Ain’t Nobody Home But Me 1974
05 Intro by Lena Spencer / David Bromberg The Holdup 1972
06 Ramblin’ Jack Elliott Pretty Boy Floyd 1992
07 Arlo Guthrie City of New Orleans 2010
08 Aztec Two Step The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty 1989
09 Happy And Artie Traum Trials Of Jonathan 1974
10 Rick Danko It Makes No Difference 1988
11 Paul Geremia Something’s Gotta Be Arranged 1989
12 Robin and Linda Williams S-A-V-E-D 1987
13 John Herald Ramblin’ Jack Elliott 1991
14 Pete Seeger Somos El Barco (We Are the Boat) 1985
01 Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion Folksong 2013
02 Anais Mitchell Wedding Song 2013
03 Bill Morrissey The Last Day Of The Furlough 1990
04 Patty Larkin Island Of Time 1992
05 Greg Brown Flat Stuff 1989
06 Mary Gauthier I Drink 2013
07 Sean Rowe Old Black Dodge 2013
08 Tom Chapin Cat’s In The Cradle 1987
09 Intro by Lena Spencer / Christine Lavin Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind 1987
10 Bill Staines Sweet Wyoming Home 1990
11 Bucky and John Pizzarelli I Like Jersey Best 1989
12 Rory Block That’s No Way To Get Along 1989
13 Chris Smither Killing The Blues 1989
14 Tift Merritt Traveling Alone 2013
15 John Gorka Down In The Milltown 1990
16 Lena Spencer Dear Little Cafe 1972