[Rating: 3.5 stars]
After a certain number of decades, life becomes less about building up respect, connections and cred and more about cashing in what you’ve already earned, if you’re so inclined. When David Bromberg decided it was time to once again climb out from behind his violin-store counter and back into the studio, he made a few phone calls. One went to John Hiatt. Another went to Levon Helm. Dr. John got a ring; so did Keb’ Mo’, Linda Ronstadt, Los Lobos, Larry Campbell, Vince Gill and Tim O’Brien. And for good measure, Widespread Panic, whom Bromberg learned about when he found out they were covering what could be considered his most renowned tune: “Sharon.” You know, the one about the carnival dancer who snakes her way into men’s minds through a horn section mashing Memphis soul and “Arabian Nights” riffs. (He may not have known who Widespread Panic was, but any self-respecting jam band fan likely is well aware of his existence; half of the Dead played on that song and the title tune of the album it was on, 1972’s “Demon in Disguise.” But we digress … .)
Inspired by a suggestion from his wife, Bromberg went a step further and asked most of these artists to write a song for him, then produce him playing it. In Helm’s case, Larry Campbell produced as Helm drummed on a Bromberg original — the lusciously lascivious B.B. King-style blues number, “Tongue” — and the string romp, “Bring It With You When You Come.”
Hiatt, who germinated the concept by inviting Bromberg to his Nashville studio, contributed “Ride On Out a Ways.” It’s such a great Hiatt blues ballad, it’s hard to believe he gave it up, but he put it in great hands — and stuck in some great Kevin McKendree keyboards for good measure. Just about every track on here contains at least some A-list session players, all of whom easily hold their own against Bromberg’s outsized guitar and dobro talents.
Dr. John brings da funk with “You Don’t Wanna Make Me Mad”; Bromberg’s vocals don’t quite equal what the good doctor might have done, but their teasing instrumental interplay more than makes up for it. These two old pals could do a fine jazz/blues/funk album together — and oughtta consider it.
“Old Neighborhood,” his Widespread Panic collaboration, regains the momentum lost on Los Lobos’ “The Long Goodbye.” With even more funk than the Dr. John tune, it’s the most relaxed-sounding, fun track on the disc. Maybe they ought to back both Bromberg and Mr. Mac on a project.
“Lookout Mountain Girl,” written by Gill and Guy Clark, is another one of the more successful collaborations. The bluegrass/honky-tonker features Gill on mandolin and chicken-pickin’ Telecaster. It would have been a good ending, but Bromberg rather unwisely chose to finish with the title tune, his cover of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” (produced by fellow Philly natives Phil and Joe Nicolo). All the sexiness Bromberg brought to “Tongue” is exactly what’s missing from “Use Me.” But at least we know he’s still got it; he may get tired here and there, but he’s not used up yet.