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Driving Force

By B.A. Nilsson

David Bromberg Band, Angel Band

The Egg, Nov. 4

I’m guessing that no David Brom berg fan truly believed that Bromberg would stop performing for good when he settled in Chicago to make fiddles in the 1990s. Sure enough, by the end of that decade, he was venturing out on the road again, and he soon relocated to a nascent arts district in Wilmington, Del., jamming locally and touring in the Northeast.

Now he’s even been heading out west to the delight, I’m sure, of the more far-flung of the fan base—and inadvertently creating a dilemma, last March in Santa Fe, when his wife discovered an $1,800 pair of cowboy boots that screamed, “Buy me!” Who wouldn’t want to see a hand-tooled Virgin of Guadalupe peering back from one’s shins?

Mrs. Bromberg is the Nancy Josephson who’s been singing backup with her husband’s band for many years. And a pleasant outgrowth of the Wilmington jams has been the formation of her own group, Angel Band, a trio of singers also including Jan Schonwald and Kathleen Weber. And those boots (or the lack of them) inspired some sole music: one of the Angel Band’s gorgeously rendered numbers, “Boots of Guadalupe,” praising the elusive footwear in rich harmony.

The Angel Band opened for the Bromberg Band at Sunday’s concert at the Egg, although each backed up the other throughout. Much of what they sang is original material by Josephson and/or mandolin wizard Bobby Tangrea, including the affecting, anthemic “We Are Shepherds,” written, Josephson explained, in response to the troop surge.

Close-harmony trio singing seems to be province of women’s voices, as quartet singing has long been identified with men; the best of the distaff threesomes, going back in the 20th century to the Peters Sisters, can easily be as chilling as they can be bold and luscious.

From the high-kicking “Coming Home to You” to the richly textured “Place of Grace,” it was an inspiring set, with an icing-on-the-cake cover of “Angel of the Morning” to juice things even more.

Backing the singers were Bromberg, switching between six- and 12-string, Tangrea, Bob Taylor on bass and violinist Jeff Wisor. All returned for Bromberg’s set, with the addition of saxophonist John Firmin, trumpeter Peter Ecklund, trombonist Curtis Linberg, bassist Butch Amiot and Richard Crooks on drums.

With only a few personnel differences, these are the players who’ve been performing this material with Bromberg for more than 30 years. They’re all virtuosos, they’re a tight ensemble, and they put on a terrific show, which makes a song like “Dark Hollow” all the more compelling as it moves from tutti to solos and back again. All of this was capped by the inimitable Bromberg voice, as adept at bluegrass as at a straight-ahead blues number like “First Time She Quit Me.”

A trio of fiddle tunes titled “Yankee’s Revenge” showed the multi-instrumental talents of the players, ending with Bromberg and Tangrea joining Wisor on the fiddles as Crooks pounded away to an Irish beat. A complete opposite was Bromberg’s unamplified lament “Drown in My Own Tears,” played as a duo with bassist Amiot until the Angel Band harmony-answered down front in the house.

And these were only the highlights of a dozen terrific tunes. Bromberg has a few big production numbers in his back pocket, and he closed the set with the best of them: “Sharon,” a rousing, silly, thoroughly compelling routine that highlights some of his more unusual electric guitar techniques (you’ll swear he makes the thing talk).

An appropriately driving “Driving Wheel” was the encore, a few final licks from these talented players and singers. “Are we a blues band?” Bromberg asked rhetorically earlier in the evening. “Or are we a country band? To me it’s all blues.”

To me it needed no categorization.

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