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NEW YORK — Known more to a certain stripe of folk/acoustic musician than to the general public, songwriter David Bromberg got his start at the tail end of the Greenwich Village folk scene and worked with legends including Bob Dylan and George Harrison before deciding, in 1980, he couldn’t stand the touring life. Beth Toni Kruvant‘s David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure will appeal mostly to those who follow this corner of the music world seriously, but also proves an interesting portrait of a near-star who found a place to thrive outside the spotlight.
The somewhat scattered doc initially threatens to focus on the recording of Use Me, a 2011 comeback attempt that paired Bromberg with musicians ranging from Dr. John to Keb’ Mo’. Happily, Kruvant limits her use of material shot during these sessions, much of which is uneventful; in the end, it serves mainly to prove that players of Keb’ Mo’s generation know who Bromberg is. We hear more, though, from neo-bluegrass artists who credit much of the genre’s revival to John Hartford‘s Bromberg-produced LP Aereo-plain.
Though it offers concert footage shot during Bromberg’s pre-80s tenure as a solo performer, the film is most intriguing when discussing the period just before this — when the young, Jewish aspirant befriended blues legend Reverend Gary Davis — and long after: Becoming fascinated with violin construction after he stopped touring, Bromberg eventually became a successful dealer, amassing the world’s most extensive collection of American-made instruments.
Working with revitalization-minded officials in his current home of Wilmington, Delaware, Bromberg built a violin shop in a long-abandoned nightlife district and helped attract attention to an effort to rebuild its Queen Theater. The relationship seems to be symbiotic, with the city benefitting from Bromberg’s history and the performer enjoying the renewed attention. Bromberg’s latter-day recordings may never get him out of the world of A-list sidemen, but Unsung Treasure suggests that’s not a bad world to inhabit.
Production Company: Good Footage Productions
Director-Producer: Beth Toni Kruvant
Executive producer: Roger Kruvant
Director of photography: Bill Donald
Editor: Anand Kamalakar
No rating, 73 minutes
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