Al Basile – Me & The Originator
Sweetspot – 2018
25 tracks; 73 minutes
Poet, writer, performer, singer, cornet player – Al Basile has been producing outstanding albums for many years. In fact it is 20 years since he founded his own label Sweetspot and decided to mark that anniversary with something a little different. Me & The Originator could be called a concept album, combining words and music to tell the imaginary story of a musician who found a trunk full of handwritten stories and poems, set them to music and never admitted his plagiarism to anyone, the public or his band mates. Al wrote all this material and alternates between narration and the songs, all linked to the core theme.
As on his last two albums, 2016’s Mid-Century Modern and 2017’s Quiet Money, Al used Duke Robillard as producer and guitarist, Duke in turn bringing his own band to the sessions: Bruce Bears on keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass, Mark Teixeira on drums and Doug James on tenor sax; Jeff ‘Doc’ Chanonhouse’s trumpet complements Doug’s sax and Al’s cornet in the horn section. The playing throughout is stellar, just listen to Duke’s closing solo on “My J-O-B” as one example. Duke also plays some short intros to each of the spoken narratives.
The words start with the discovery of the trunk and then go back to the narrator’s early life, through the years as a struggling musician to the days of success (after the discovery of the trunk which enabled the band to create original material, as desired by the record company). Along the way Al describes a gig when the entire band deserted him and he had to play a solo show in order to get paid (reluctantly by the owner!) to a fallout with a long-term friend who had been fiddling gate receipts for years. In “Who Owns It?”the narrator runs into a super-fan who asks him all about the lyrics, yet he did not write them! However, our protagonist finds that what occurs in the words often comes to pass in his life. Bad relationships, excesses, addictions, all are on the end of Al’s acerbic wit and commentary until the poignant end when the narrator finally gets to the end of the papers in the trunk as well as his own life.
The songs range across blues shuffles, some with jazzy touches, even moving into Americana territory, as in “Lefty’s Nine Lessons” and “A Go Of It”, both of which bring to mind The Band. We get back to the blues in “All Right” the tune of which sounds a little like “Sitting On Top Of The World”, Duke’s solo a model of conciseness, and Duke’s intro to the slow blues “She Made Me Believe It” is terrific as the horns growl behind Al’s vocal, both excellent tracks. “Here Come Your Trouble”, on the other hand, has a definite jazz undercurrent courtesy of Bruce’s piano work and Al’s cornet solo. “First One To Go” is a beautiful melody with emotional lyrics about the end of a relationship which Al conveys well in his vocal as the horns and Bruce’s understated piano create a superb backdrop for Duke’s plucked guitar and Al’s Mexican-flavored solo. Towards the end of the album “So Wrong For So Long” acts as a confession for the narrator’s actions with an achingly beautiful solo from Al and in the closing “If It Goes, It Goes” he seems to have accepted whatever the fates have conspired to bring him at the end of his time.
This is a really thoughtful project that combines Al’s abilities as poet, songwriter and music arranger. The combination of spoken word and songs is unusual but works well and the quality of the musicians involved makes the music just as good as on Al’s previous albums, so this is a definite winner for this reviewer.