David Bronson & The Questions Band
“I noticed that every song I was writing had a question in it.”
The new album Questions plays like a soul-drenched paean to the uncertainties of burgeoning adulthood. It sees Bronson moving from the deeply textured, almost psychedelic indie folk rock of his prior two albums to Questions’ deceptively fluid amalgam of soul, gospel, folk, and dance-funk grafted on to the classic 70’s-infused singer-songwriting he’s become known for.
Perhaps ironically, given its subject matter, Questions reaches new levels of artistic certainty and songwriting, with melodies and lyrics that are as thought provoking and penetrating as they are “immediately memorable” (Guitar World Magazine). Full tilt in the middle of releasing and promoting The Long Lost Story, David started to witness a very different voice coming through his writing. Which is when he told his musical partner, producer Godfrey Diamond (Lou Reed, Aerosmith, Kool & The Gang), that he had something very specific and new in mind for the next album.
How long to quell this heart
with who we are?
Says Bronson, “The Long Lost Story took so long for me to bring into being that by the time it came out it was a picture of my distant past, both in content and in form. So I was desperate for a very long time to express something reflective of my present reality, both emotionally and artistically speaking.”
“And I don’t exactly know why, but I just kept hearing soul singers.”
According to Bronson, the only principal members he knew he wanted on the record at the outset were Diamond and Robbie “Seahag” Mangano, longtime Bronson bandmate and Diamond collaborator (Mangano has toured with the likes of Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine and is in Sean Lennon’s band The Ghost of A Saber Tooth Tiger).
“Other than those two,” Bronson says, “I didn’t know who would eventually help me create the thing, but I had this very definite notion that I wanted the vibe of my favorite classic, soul-inspired rock albums, like some of The Stones’, Joe Cocker’s or Van Morrison’s greatest records. The most concrete reference was Bowie’s Young Americans.”
Once Diamond heard the material that would form the new record, it made perfect sense.
The veteran producer, who has worked with luminaries of classic rock, soul, and funk, believed in the direction immediately, and set about assembling the perfect group of collaborators. As for the crucial decision of who would play drums, he brought on Argentinian-born, Brooklyn-based Lautaro Burgos to fill out the core trio that would lay down basic tracks at Brooklyn’s Mission Sound.
“You just know it when you’re in the middle of something very special taking place. Everyone
present feels it.”
According to Bronson, there was something very unusual about the album right from the start.
“Each major stage of this record was pure magic. You just know it when you’re in the middle of something very special taking place. Everyone present feels it. From when the songs were first coming out, to laying down demos with Godfrey, to rehearsals and then recording basics with Godfrey, Robbie, and Lautaro, and finally when The Alomars and Gordon Grody came in for the background sessions, it was just complete, undeniable magic.
Apart from The Alomars being an actual family, those sessions just took on such a family vibe pretty much from the get-go. And, you know, when I mentioned Young Americans to Godfrey, I didn’t actually expect him to bring in Young Americans!”
“As soon as Dave said he wanted the Young Americans vibe, I was like ‘hey man, we can get the real thing.’”
The Alomars are Robin Clark, the legendary vocalist who, besides being one third of the immortal backgrounds on the landmark 1975 Bowie “plastic soul” album, and vocalist with the seminal 80’s rock band Simple Minds, has lent her stunning talents to recordings and performances by Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Al Green, Bruce Springsteen, and Beyonce (to name a few ;). Clark was also recently seen in the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom.
And then of course there is Carlos Alomar, Bowie’s longtime guitarist and musical director, whose gifts are in evidence on twenty five plus years of Bowie’s most commercially and critically adored work starting with Young Americans (on which he co-wrote the classic “Fame” with Bowie and John Lennon), as well as seminal records by artists such as Iggy Pop, Paul McCartney, and Alicia Keys, recently contributing his guitar chops to the Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars smash “Uptown Funk.”
Both Clark and Alomar were recently featured in the acclaimed BBC documentary David Bowie: Five Years. And finally there is Carlos and Robin’s daughter, Lea-Lórien, an internationally acclaimed Billboard and iTunes charting vocalist, songwriter, and Dance / EDM artist.
And Diamond turned Bronson onto keys player Rob Clores (The Black Crowes, Joan Osborne), who brings some of the most standout instrumental passages on the album, ranging from the understated perfection of Carol King to the virtuosic tastefulness of Nicky Hopkins.
“I wanted the vibe of my favorite classic, soul-inspired rock albums, like some of The Stones’, Joe Cocker’s or Van Morrison’s greatest records.”
According to Diamond, “As soon as Dave said he wanted the Young Americans vibe, I was like ‘hey man, we can get the real thing. Let’s get Robin Clark in here.’ I called my friend Gordon Grody (NY session vocalist stalwart among whose many credits include John Lennon, Steely Dan, Talking Heads), who knew where Robin was, and we got Gordon Grody, Robin Clark, and of course her amazing husband Carlos Alomar, and their lovely daughter Lea, and it was like a whole bash, like a blast from the past. It was so amazing to get to work with Robin again, it really was. I worked with her so many times back in the day, and to have the whole Alomars here together working on this record was a total pleasure. So I’m really happy this all came together like this, and I love the way things came out for this record, for Dave.”
Did I follow that conviction all the way?
Grody & Clark’s work on the dance-funk foot stomper “Task” set the stage from the initial session, adding a layer of soul-gospel-funk brilliance that would continue to bring Bronson’s dreams for the record into reality. And from the gospel-tinged harmonies of “Life is Long” and “Songbird”, to the Philly Soul vibe of “Connect The Dots” and “Move Like Water”, to the classic Stax/Motown era touches on “Day By Day” and “Song of Life”, the backgrounds mesh with the instrumentals and Bronson’s distinct lead vocals to become an integral element of the album. They also complement and heighten the record’s clear themes of yearning, struggle, passage, joy, and the sense of journey inherent in the lyrics.
Could I walk across a lifetime like I was walking across a hillside?
Subtle echoes of Graceland/Rhythm of the Saints era Paul Simon and John Lennon’s solo work run through the songs’ instrumentation, melodies and arrangements. And shades of So/Us era Peter Gabriel are felt through the emotional and psychological imagery, and lyrical evocations of partnership and familial archetypes.
And just like in his earlier records, where amidst a barrage of pain, anger, and uncertainty there was a constant glimmer of hope just below the surface, on Questions, one feels a decidedly optimistic spirit from the heart and mind of a deeply questioning traveler.
Could we move like water, could we move like wind?
“I was desperate for a very long time to express something reflective of my present reality.”
Throughout all the questioning, yearning, and pushing, one comes away with the distinct feeling that Bronson believes that all the answers that we’ll ever need exist somewhere within the fabric of our experience; in the singing of a companion, the whispers of a lover, or the smile of a complete stranger. And yes, it feels like they’re also there somewhere in the fabric of this record, it’s just that they don’t look exactly like you’d expect.
Kind of like life.
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