Al Basile, |
Al Basile's music is built out of blues and r&b with some jazz finishes, the assured work of a songwriter and horn player (cornet and trumpet) who's been around, first as a member of the long-running jump-blues outfit Roomful of Blues, for a while now as a member of Duke Robillard's band, and as an occasional solo artist.
B's Expression is what we have come to expect of Basile, which means spirited storytelling in Basile's tough but open-hearted voice (all 13 songs are originals) backed by Robillard's guitars (Robillard also produces) and keyboards, drums and horns from other veterans, many of them fellow Roomful alumni. Basile's witty liner notes, remarking on the genesis of each song though without naming names, confirm what one would have expected: these are largely autobiographical. Well, probably, as a general principle most songs that have "I" in them are. But Basile, a published writer of fiction and poetry, adroitly eschews the rhetorical cliches of love and heartbreak to underscore the bittersweet adult realities: the nuances, the complications, the humor, the fatalistic acceptance of what cannot be. One editorial aside gets a small fact wrong, however. Gertrude Stein is said to have directed her crack about "no there there" at Oakland, not at Cleveland.
The music grows out of jump blues and soul, in service to an r&b classicism so joyfully rendered as to feel invented on the spot. Obviously, the man loves what he's doing, and even the occasional downbeat song is usually laced with rueful humor, as if to communicate the message that I may be down now, but I've been here long enough to know I'll be up again soon enough. As those of us who listen to blues know, anybody who insists blues can't be funny knows nothing about the genre. (It's honkytonk country songs that are truly, hopelessly depressing.) "Don't You Ever Get Tired of Being Right?" evokes audible laughter, perhaps suggesting what John Prine would do if he wrote r&b songs.
On the other side is a lovely anthem, "Even Jesus Fell," which I hope gospel artists in all genres pick up. Its message of forgiveness for the fallibility of all of us shines in this dark moment of national nastiness and rampant self-righteousness. It's a wonderfully forgiving affirmation of the flawed humanity that unites all of us.
In common with any master, Basile makes it appear as if effortlessly pulled out of the air, when it takes much to sound so casual. It takes, too, a native talent, which Basile possesses in spades. Expression will have you beaming.
music review by
12 December 2015
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