Fricke's Picks: Folk-Blues Guitarist David Bromberg, British Instrumentalist James Blackshaw, Bruce Licher's "Exploratorium"

By |

The extraordinary folk-blues guitarist David Bromberg has strolled back into the spotlight as abruptly as he resigned from it nearly three decades ago, when he dissolved his fantastic and popular touring band in 1980 to study violin making. Bromberg, who now runs his own successful workshop, eventually turned his back on recording altogether: His delightful new solo-acoustic set, Try Me One More Time (Appleseed), is Bromberg's first album since 1989. But the ink-sketch cover portrait aptly echoes the one on his 1971 Columbia LP, David Bromberg. The fluid, orchestral invention of Bromberg's fingerpicking -- his original calling card on pivotal late-Sixties and Seventies sessions for Jerry Jeff Walker ("Mr. Bojangles") and Bob Dylan (New Morning) -- is in undiminished bloom, invigorating sturdy old blues and ballads by Robert Johnson, Reverend Gary Davis and Elizabeth Cotten, among others. A recent surprise is Bromberg's singing. His old, shaky rodeo-hand yelp -- which had its eccentric charm -- has settled into a rippling Fred Neil-like baritone that, when the going gets rough in "Levee Camp Moan," brings warm, reassuring comfort.

James Blackshaw is a young English acoustic guitarist whose first trips to the fifth-dimension intersection of antique British and Yankee folk, plantation blues, Indian drone and analog hum (harmonium, Farfisa organ) seeped out in 2005 on CD-R, in pressings of as little as eighty. Sunshrine/Celeste and O True Believers (both on Bo'Weavil) are slightly less limited editions, on twelve-inch vinyl, of Blackshaw's shimmering instrumental wanderlust. His rolling clusters of twelve-string rain bear the vintage imprint of John Fahey and Robbie Basho, but there is a more pronounced psychedelia in Blackshaw's transportive integration of sarod, tamboura, whispered timpani and twilight ambience in the near-half-hour of "Sunshrine" and, on O True Believers, the dawn-raga daydream "The Elk With Jade Eyes."

The billowing minimalism of Exploratorium (Licher Art & Design) by Bruce Licher -- the original bassist in tribal futurists Savage Republic and founding guitarist of the desert-surf instrumental band Scenic -- also comes in a limited pressing: a three-inch CD on LP-size cardboard with Licher's acclaimed letterpress artwork. "Peak," "Going Home" and "The Penstome Field" total twenty-two minutes and are four-track home recordings from 1997 -- overdubbed guitars, bass and Martian-ocean echo -- that combine the industrial ghost dance of Savage Republic with Licher's passion for Ennio Morricone in Scenic. Inquire at ipr@esedona.net -- Licher signs each copy.