• B's Expression


    B’s Expression
    Al Basile
    Label: City Hall Records
    Release Date: September 18, 2015
    Review Date: September 27, 2015

    Singer/songwriter/cornetist Al Basile (the “Bard of the Blues) is out with a new CD, B’s Expression, and what a great disc it is!

    Produced by long-time friend Duke Robillard (check out our review of Duke’s latest album also posted today) and recorded at Lakewest Recording Studio in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, B’s Expression features 13 all-original Al Basile songs, backed by a simpatico band that includes Duke Robillard – guitars; Mark Teixeira – drums; Bruce Bears – keyboards; Brad Hallen – bass; Doug James – tenor and baritone sax; and Carl Querfurth – trombone.

    An original member of the seminal roots music group, Roomful of Blues, Al Basile is a multiple Blues Music Award nominee. He’s written songs for and/or appeared on over 10 Duke Robillard albums, including the Grammy nominated Guitar Groove-a-Rama and Stomp! The Blues Tonight. His songs have also been recorded by such other blues giants as Ruth Brown and Johnny Rawls. 

    Following up the critical success of Basile’s last CD, Woke Up in Memphis (2014), the tracks on B’s Expression are firmly rooted in the blues and soul styles of the Memphis sound epitomized by Stax and Hi Records, while offering up a palette of songs that showcase his unique ability as a wordsmith. A widely published poet as well as songwriter, Basile has a way with words not normally heard in roots music. A testament to his scholarly credits, at one point last winter he had work in five different poetry magazines, simultaneously. He’s also given talks on songwriting and metric poetry writing at Boston University's Editorial Institute and the West Chester Poetry Conference.
    “It’s pertinent to my branching out as a writer,” says Basile, “that aside from getting a song on Johnny Rawls’ last CD, I’ve been writing custom songs for New Jump Blues, a West Coast band that advertises itself as jump blues and calypso, and has three singers, one of whom is actor Antonio Fargas (“Huggy Bear” from the classic Starsky and Hutch TV show in the 1970s and a bunch of “Blaxploitation” films in the ‘70s/’80s). They put out a CD a year ago and followed it up by playing the Playboy Jazz Festival. Recently, they shot a video of a song I wrote for them for COZI-TV, an NBC affiliated network that shows vintage ‘60s-‘80s television fare. The stuff I write for that band is in classic R&B style, but it’s tailored to the three singers, who assume characters and do a kind of stage show where they sing and dance. Writing for them is a lot like writing for musical theater, which I started doing way back when I wrote musicals at Brown University, except in an R&B style.”

    During the songwriting phase of B’s Expression, Basile also did something he hasn’t done before on any of his solo recordings. “While I was writing these songs, I also came up with the arrangements for each of them that I wanted to follow once we got in the studio,” he stresses. “In the past, I’d write the songs and take them into the studio and work out the arrangements with all the musicians who played on the sessions. The result is that this new CD is my most fully- realized album yet.”

    While all of the songs on B’s Expression have a story behind their creation, it’s worth pointing out instances for Basile’s inspiration of several of them as listed in the liner notes:

    “Answer Me” - “‘Silence is the unbearable repartee’ is variously attributed to Chesterton, Dickens, and Alexander Theroux. Whoever said it first, this song is an attempt to bear the silence of others by giving a little context to a plea for a response. Sometimes it feels like no one is ever going to answer!”

    “Don't You Ever Get Tired of Being Right?” – “I wrote this with the jump blues style of Louis Jordan in mind and then changed the groove for this version. The lyric still sports his brand of humor, I think – blues humor can take all kinds of stylistic changes on the musical side (see any Johnny “Guitar” Watson remake, for example).”

    “I Didn’t Come Here to Lie” – “Some straight talk to a friend who needs to hear it – but stopping short of judgement. There is always something we can't know about another, no matter how much we do know. We sure like to draw conclusions, though – with or without sufficient evidence.”

    “It Wasn’t That Good” – “You could say this was inspired by James Brown's After You Done It. Sometimes songs really do inspire other songs. But sometimes even someone you’ve chased for a long time turns out to be what Gertrude Stein said about Cleveland. Romantically speaking, of course.”

    “Somethin’s Missing” – “This is my take on the Ellington It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) theme. Swing is a groove, the first one I ever really loved. But there are others that have come along since, and if you don't have one – you better have another. Can’t even make coffee without one.”

    “Whole Lot of Good Good Lovin’” – “No, it's not Good Lovin’ and it's not Whole Lotta Love. It’s not even Fats’ Whole Lotta Lovin’ or JB's Good Good Lovin’. But there’s been bragging in blues since forever, and if the shoe fits....”

    “You Know – You Don't Know” – “The idea for this started back in the Roomful of Blues days; when we first worked with Cleanhead Vinson, he looked at us thoughtfully one day and murmured, ‘You know...you don't know. You know...you don't know.’ Exactly what he meant is anybody’s guess, but I took the phrase and applied it to the dramatic situation that's described in the lyric. This is an example of a song allowing someone to say something he couldn’t otherwise put into words.”

    If you’re wanting some new, fresh blues, B’s Expression is a great disc for you to own.

  • Mid-Century Modern

    midcenturymoderncoverMid-Century Modern
    Al Basile
    Label: Sweetspot Records
    Release Date: August 19, 2016
    Review Date: August 21, 2016

    Al Basile, whose previous albums have generated multiple Blues Music Award nominations, announces an August 19 release date for his latest CD, Mid-Century Modern, on Sweetspot Records. Produced by Duke Robillard (who also guests on guitar on two tracks), Mid-Century Modern showcases Al Basile’s vocals and cornet on 13 all-original songs, and backed by a stellar band that includes “Monster” Mike Welch – guitar; Bruce Bears – keyboards; Brad Hallen – bass; Mark Teixeira – drums; and a horn section of Doug James – baritone, tenor sax, bass clarinet; Rich Lataille – alto, tenor sax; and Jeff “Doc” Chanonhouse – trumpet.

    “I wrote these songs over a 14-day period last summer right after finishing the Knickerbocker All Stars project, where we did a lot of classic R&B and blues material that featured horn solos,” recalls Al Basile, who also did all the horn arrangements on his new disc. “That got me thinking about the repertoire we played in Roomful of Blues in the Seventies and how much fun it was to solo over those grooves. Thought I'd write a bunch of songs that I could stretch out on the horn a little more than I usually do. It was like writing a bunch of stories about old friends. And using my horn as well as my voice to tell them,” he adds.

    Al Basile's musical values were developed in the 1950s and ‘60s, and his work shows the influences of blues, jazz, soul and gospel music of that era, as well as that of the generation before his birth. His new CD is built on that American roots music of the middle of the 20th century and features the lyric writing of a great contemporary storyteller who also happens to be an award-winning poet. Mid-Century Modern is built to last, with Al handling the soulful vocals and the lion's share of the solo work on his bluesy, succinct cornet (his five BMA nominations since 2010 are testament to his unique potency on the horn). Those conversant with the last century will notice classic musical influences including Louis Jordan, Buddy Johnson, Richard Berry, Albert King, Lee Dorsey and Slim Harpo – but the message of these songs is Al Basile's alone. They are like no other.

    “You don't hear the cornet much in blues these days, but it does go back to Buddy Bolden after all,” says Basile. “Brass players were known to play blues all the time in early days of jazz and blues. My horn sound is another voice to me. I'm a baritone – I don't sing that high. And I play a big bore cornet – I don't play that high, either. It's not always the tenor that gets the aria!”

    Al Basile’s talent for writing songs of both poignancy and humor abound throughout the tracks on Mid-Century Modern. Some examples of the former include “Like You or Despise You,” “No Truth to the Rumor,” “Listen to the Elders” and “Lie Under the House with Me.” And Basile’s knack of seeing the humor in certain situations materialize on the opening song, “Keep Your Love, Where’s My Money?,” “Tickle My Mule,” “I’ve Got to Have Meat (with Every Meal” and “Like a Woman, Like a Man.”

    About “Like You or Despise You,” Basile states: “Not everyone plays poker but we all have our own version of the face. Some people, of course, are better at hiding their true feelings than others. I’m not sure how often people are given fair warning that they should be wary of a friendly smile, but it’s surprising how few pay attention when told straight out. It’s certainly easier to take people at face value – but oh the bills that arrive later!”

    And Basile declares “Tickle My Mule” to be “a metaphor about the Mind/Body dialogue designed to remind us that we may have an excellent idea of how we ought to feel about someone else, but if they lack that je ne sais quoi, we just won’t feel it. I think this lyric puts it more succinctly, and it’s certainly more fun to sing (and imagine).”