“Only Slightly Mad,” the follow-up to David Bromberg’s 2011 “Use Me,” on which he enlisted John Hiatt, Dr. John, Levon Helm, Los Lobos and other to write or select material, produce and/or perform with him, David chose to combine his own touring band with former members of the late Levon Helm’s recording and road band for two weeks of recording sessions at Helm’s Woodstock studio.. In the producer’s chair –and performing as part of the ensemble – was three-time Grammy-winning producer and guitarist Larry Campbell (for Levon Helm, and, like David, a sometime Dylan sideman). Special guests John Sebastian and John McEuen also dropped by for distinctive cameos on harmonica and banjo, respectively.
The result is a thorough display of Bromberg’s many talents – as a sensitive, masterful guitarist, mandolinist and vocalist, convincing song interpreter, songwriter, bandleader and arranger. There are enough musical roots on display on “Only Slightly Mad” to support a giant redwood – blues, bluegrass, gospel, folk, country, Irish fiddle tunes, English drinking songs, even a cappella, all happily coexist, as they did on his much-loved albums of the ’70s and ’80s.
Whether wielding his buzzing slide guitar on the opening blues-gospel standard “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” or loosing his flickering fingers on acoustic lead guitar on the spirited bluegrass of “Maydelle’s Reel” and Irish jig “Jenny’s Chickens,” Bromberg proves it’s the quality, not quantity, of his finely-honed instrumental chops that serves his material – originals and covers – most effectively. He treats his accompanists like musical partners, utilizing their skills on stringed instruments, horns, keyboards, and backing vocals to make each song a perfect, unique entity in so many roots music genres. Also worth noting are David’s vocals, which can escalate from the low-key regret of “Last Date” to the sarcastic roar of “I’ll Take You Back” (“…when rattlesnakes have knees and money grows on trees”).