Album Reviews

Al Basile

Mid-Century Modern

Artist:     Al Basile

Album:     Mid-Century Modern

Label:     Sweetspot

Release Date:     08/19/2016


The ever prolific Al Basile is at it again.  You can count on the multiple BMA nominee, singer-songwriter/ cornetist to put out an album every year.  What sets Basile apart from other writers is his sense of humor and his poetic, story-telling wordplay that magnetically draws you into his songs.   Basile is always a fun listen. And, as good as many of his past albums have been, this goes right to the top of the list. Basile, of course, is a former member of Roomful of Blues and his strong ties with the New England blues community, has him amidst some of its best musicians.  The cast here has “Monster” Mike Welch on guitar, Duke Robillard’s road band (Bruce Bears – keyboards, Brad Hallen – bass, and Mark Teixeira – drums), and  a horn section that includes Roomful guys like Doug James and Rich Lataille on saxes along with Jeff “Doc” Chanonhouse on trumpet.   Robillard produces and plays guitar on two tracks.  Basile does the horn arrangements.

You also hear plenty of Basile’s cornet on these tunes of which he comments, “You don’t hear the cornet much in blues these days, but it does go back to Buddy Bolden after all.”  The title refers to the R&B type of blues from the middle of the twentieth century from folks like Louis Jordan, Slim Harpo, and Buddy Johnson among many others.  Basile says, “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.   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.”

Basile provides generous liner notes with lyrics and captions that explain the song ideas. There are both provocative ideas and humor in “Like You or Despise You,” “No Truth to the Rumor,” “Listen to the Elders,” and “Lie Under the House with Me.”  Others that will grab your attention are the opener, “Keep Your Love, Where’s My Money?,” “Tickle My Mule” and “I’ve Got to Have Meat with Every Meal.”  Here’s an example of the liner explanation for “Tickle My Mule” – “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).”  Another interesting sentiment is found in “Big Trees Are Falling” as Basile laments the passing of the masters that originated this music, knowing that folks like him are the next to pave the way.

It’s rare to find an award winning poet/gifted musician surrounded by such talents who understand where blues and R&B meet.  Basile is an underappreciated  treasure  who will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face.

– Jim Hynes

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