Fabrizio Poggi – Basement Blues
Appaloosa Records AP 267-2
13 songs – 56 minutes
Fabrizio Poggi soared into the upper stratosphere of the American blues scene in 2018, earning a spot in the finals of the Grammys along with Guy Davis for Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train. But the Italian harmonica ace has been making sweet music at home for decades prior to his recent acclaim – something that becomes crystal clear with a listen to this disc, the 25th album in his catalog.
Based out of Milan, Fabrizio has been fronting the band Chicken Mambo since the mid-1990s but he’s no stranger to the U.S., with a career that includes appearing at Carnegie Hall, Mississippi juke joints and everything in between while working and recording with a wide range of talents that includes Texans Ruthie Foster, Carolyn Wonderland, W.C. Clark and Lavelle White along with Mike Zito, Bob Margolin and Eric Bibb, too.
This disc, which is culled in different settings from outtakes from studio and live sets between 2008 and 2015 is no different. Davis, Ronnie Earl and Garth Hudson of The Band all make appearances along with guitarist Enrico Polverari, Fabrizio’s frequent playing partner and friend. And if you’re wondering, it’s no mistake that Poggi pays tribute to The Band’s original The Basement Tapes LP and Big Pink, the studio where it was recorded. The idea came after he received a scale model of the building as a gift from his wife, Angelina, who snapped the cover image.
Recorded live and in studio in settings that range from full band to duo, the lineup includes appearances from guitarist Maurizio Fassino, mandolinist Francesco Garolfi, accordionist Bobby J. Sacchi, bassists Roberto Re and Tino Cappelletti, organist/bassist Stefano Spina, organists Stefano Resca and Lorenzo Bovo and drummer Stefano Bertolotti. And Hudson’s wife, Maud, sits in on backing vocals.
An eclectic mix of six originals primarily paired with tunes from the pre-War era, the action kicks off with a gentle rendering of Rev. Thomas Dorsey’s “Precious Lord” in partnership with Polverari. Fabrizio’s sweet, subtle work on the reeds is masterful to open before his lyrics – which are delivered with only the slightest accent of his homeland – follow suit. Davis is on guitar and vocals for a barebones, take on Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster” to follow with Poggi chording on harp and adding Sonny Terry-style whoops for an appreciative American audience.
The sprightly original, “Midnight Train,” finds Fabrizio doubling on harp and guitar in full-band setting before teaming with Garth on six-string and organ in a well-conceived eight-piece arrangement of the traditional “John the Revelator.” Earl joins the action on acoustic guitar for “Your Light,” a Poggi original that advises folks to keep on shining no matter what other people say or want you to do, before Davis returns in duet for a live take on his slow-blues original, “Black Coffee.”
A quiet but powerful acoustic-trio reading of Blind Willie Johnson’s “The Soul of a Man” precedes the languorous “Blues for Charlie,” an electrified instrumental original that gives Fabrizio plenty of space to shine, before he and Ronnie take you to church with a stripped-down take on Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s gospel standard “Up Above My Head.”
The sound explodes with “Boogie for John Lee Hooker,” which follows in an electrified, five-piece setting, before Davis and Poggi double-team Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” an outtake from their BMA-nominated Juba Dance CD, and two more originals — “I’m on the Road Again” and “Hole in Your Soul,” both featuring Polverari – bring the action to a close.
An interesting aural tapestry from start to finish, Fabrizio’s Basement Tapes finally get the listen they deserve.