Sweetspot Records SST9782
13 songs – 55 minutes
If the opening notes of Al Basile’s latest release have a familiar ring to them, there’s good reason. The gifted singer and cornetist was a longtime member of the Rhode Island jump powerhouse Roomful Of Blues, and he reunites with a trio of first-generation members to produce this one. An outstanding songwriter, he’s penned all 13 of the tunes here, delivered in a manner that combines swing, jump, R&B and classic urban and Texas blues.
A native of Haverhill, Mass., with a master’s degree in writing from Brown University, Al taught at the exclusive Providence Country Day School for 25 years before pursuing poetry and music full-time in 2005. A member of Roomful for years, this is the 12th solo album in his catalog. He’s also been a vital component of Roomful founder Duke Robillard’s band for decades, and has worked with a who’s who of other artists. His Mid-Century Modern, was a 2016 Blues Music Award nominee for contemporary album of the year, and he’s been a nominee for horn player of the year on six occasions.
Robillard handles guitar duties throughout, and supervised production at Lakewest Recording Studio in West Greenwich, R.I. Bruce Bears (piano), Brad Hallen (bass) and Mark Teixiera (drums) — Duke’s tight working band — lay down the foundation, aided by original Roomful sax players Rich Lataille and Doug “Mr. Low” James and by Jeff “Doc” Chanonhouse, who sits in on trumpet.
The end product is music that’s rich with thoroughly modern subject matter, wry — sometimes poignant — words and stellar storytelling, but a sound that would have fit comfortably in the late ’40s or ’50s as it carries forward the work of Lowell Fulson, Buddy Johnson, Jimmy McCracklin, Saunders King and others. All of them and more provided inspiration to Basile along the way and are credited in the extensive booklet that accompanies this release.
Duke’s guitar and the horns kick off “Blues Got Blues,” a swinging tune that describes the troubles the industry and its musicians face today: from poor crowds unless you play loud to clubs who are giving up the fight. Basile’s steady vocals, like the music itself, are always behind the beat, and his voice, although different, resembles Robillard in timbre and delivery.
“Simple Ain’t Easy” is based on an idea from Fulson and deals with the difficulty folks face by complicating things more than they have to, while “Did You Even Know?” was inspired by McCracklin and is an uptempo pleaser about someone who constantly lies about the past but doesn’t know when she’s fibbing. With a melody reminiscent of Billie Holiday’s “Loveless Love,” the horns drive “Wrong To Be Right.” It advises occasionally backing down in arguments to win the war. Al’s mid-tune solo is brief, but sweet.
Basile borrowed the melody for “Quiet Money” from The Coasters’ “Shopping For Clothes.” It’s a strong, non-partisan statement about secret dealings in politics. The message: “Follow the money, see where the money goes/Follow the money, see what the money knows.” “Put Some Salt On It” features Bears in a tune with sexual double entendre before the mood turns tragic with “Line By Line,” which recounts a long-ago love affair. It’s a tender ballad, but the singer realizes upon meeting the lady again after many years that she’s dealing with serious memory issues and can’t remember a thing.
The medium-fast shuffle “The Time Is Now” addresses the need to take some action after observing from the sidelines while “I Woulda Been Wrong” swings as it describes the realization that an ex-lover wasn’t all she was cracked up to be.
Basile faces aging head-on in “Not Today,” which recognizes that he’s going down slow, but that he’s not ready to give up. Up next, the subjects of “True To Form” are a couple who agree to disagree on just about everything, while “You Got Two” is a loveless man’s complaint to someone who’s got more ladies than he can handle. The death theme returns to end the disc in a barebones ballad that poignantly asks: “Who’s Gonna Close My Eyes?”
Quiet Money is an understated old-school masterpiece. The music is propulsive and stylish throughout, but the true stars here are Basile’s lyrics. Simple, but deeply profound, the tunes here should provide plenty of material for discerning musicians to cover for generations to come. Available through iTunes, CDBaby and other retailers, and highly recommended for anyone in search of true blues delivered with taste and feel.