Al Basile,
Quiet Money
(Sweetspot, 2017)

When I think of singer-songwriters (most of whom, in fact, don't merit much reflection), I think of guitarists and piano players. One doesn't associate cornet performers with the trade. But then, we have the example of Al Basile, musician, (song/prose/poetry) writer, Rhode Island resident. He's there for your horn-based social commentary, delivered with all the intelligence and wit you could ask for.

His various recordings fall along a genre landscape dotted by jump blues, r&b and jazz. You could tell somebody who hasn't heard him that Basile, Van Morrison and the late Mose Allison clearly grew up listening to the same artists and their recordings. In my judgment Basile is just about the equal of either of those, whom I have enjoyed most of my life. Basile started out in the 1970s with Duke Robillard, a longtime associate and producer/guitarist on Quiet Money, as a founder of Roomful of Blues.

The literate, grown-up songs here -- a generous 13, at a full 55 minutes -- are perhaps most fully appreciated by those who have lived long enough to form a certain jaded view of one's world and one's fellows. If that describes you, you'll likely revel in the droll humor atop the underlying sadness of the Basile sensibility. He is also a master of irony and paradox ("Simple Ain't Easy," "Wrong To Be Right"), matters rarely attached to sturdy tunes and swinging arrangements.

Besides conjuring up fresh concepts, he dodges cliches when he writes on familiar things, such as the somber chronicle of a failed marriage, "Line by Line," whose truths most who have been through such will recognize, perhaps with a sense of shock at their emotional precision. The curiously themed "You Got Two," essentially about the workings of karma (though Basile is insufficiently graceless to drop that overworked word into the narrative), has something of an unexpected arrangement -- inspired by mid-century black gospel -- to match. "Not Today" and "Who's Gonna Close My Eyes?" consider one's mortality as it moves inexorably toward the twilight.

In the opener, "Blues Got Blues," Basile laments the gradual fading of the genre in our time, a matter on which I've remarked in this space on occasion. I've complained about the blurring of blues into blues-rock, the latter usually transforming the former into something devoid of meaning and nuance. Unlike Basile, I'm not financially invested in blues as a profession (though of course I know I will be hearing only archival blues if contemporary artists and their labels can't generate enough income to keep the music alive). From my fan's perspective, these lines, in the first verse of Money's first cut, ring with a particular resonance:

They're callin' it blues no matter what they play
You can't draw a crowd
Unless you play it too damn loud.

Filled with the spirit of true blues, Al Basile doesn't play it too damn loud. One reason -- there are plenty of others -- to give him a listen.

music review by
Jerome Clark

11 November 2017

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