CD: 13 Songs; 51:57 Minutes
Styles: Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues, Blues Rock
When people listen to music, sometimes they don’t pay attention to the titles of the tunes they’re hearing. However, song titles can reveal quite a bit about where the artist’s inspiration came from. Adele’s “Hello,” while that may not say much in and of itself, is a greeting to the ex-lover she misses. “Magnets,” by the band Disclosure, discloses a mystery to attract listeners, although that word barely shows up in the song. In the case of Massachusetts’ Al Basile, the song titles on his latest release, B’s Expression, are straightforward and intriguing all the same. What about the name of the album? Its cover art reveals Al sitting next to a portrait of himself with a blue face and a bemused expression. “What is the blues?” he seems to say, and Mr. Basile shall show us.
His prolific work, which he’s been showcasing for over forty years, is heavy on horns and up-tempo rhythms. Those are hallmarks of jazz and soul as well as blues, and it’s hard to tell the difference between them on this CD. It’s also rather difficult to discern his skill as a vocalist, since Al’s vocal style consists of conversational patter rather than high-note-hitting technique. Nevertheless, someone who’s been called the “Bard of the Blues” has more than singing on his side. Basile is also a killer songwriter and cornet player. His most famous blues collaborators include Duke Robillard (featured here), Ruth Brown, and RI jump band Roomful of Blues.
Performing alongside Al, vocalist and cornetist, are Duke Robillard on guitars, Mark Teixeira on drums and tambourine, Bruce Bears on keyboards, Brad Hallen on electric and acoustic bass, Doug James on tenor sax, and Carl Querfurth on trombone.
This CD, containing thirteen original selections, starts off with a “Whole Lot of Good Good Lovin’”, followed by “It Wasn’t That Good” (snicker, snicker). Later, Basile explores his own self-doubt and ambition in “Have I Given My Best?” and “Never Good Enough”. The song below, however, is the catchiest and most hilarious:
Track 12: “That Ain’t Bad” – Perhaps the two most universal miseries are lost love and lost money. However, our narrator puts a wry and positive spin on debt: “I make six; I spend eight. You can bet I don’t fret about my fate. People say I have to pay. That just makes me mad, but I can spend more than I got, and that ain’t bad.” In the CD liner notes, Al says, “I hear that Americans have cut our trillion-dollar personal debt back to 880 billion since 2009. Looked at one way, that’s progress, but it still leaves 100 million or so people who are singing this song without knowing it.” Duke Robillard plays great blues guitar here, especially in the middle.
On the whole, B’s Expression “ain’t bad,” but as the title of track eight states, “Something’s Missing.” It could use more powerful vocals and a touch of flair. True blues are felt and lived as well as played. Here’s hoping Basile’s songwriting stays on top, though!