Singer/songwriter/cornetist Al Basile B’s Expression, the new CD from the “Bard of the Blues,” is distributed nationally by City Hall Records. Produced by long-time friend Duke Robillard and recorded at Lakewest Recording Studio in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, B’s Expression features 13 all-original Al Basile songs, backed by a simpatico band that includes Duke Robillard – guitars; Mark Teixeira – drums; Bruce Bears – keyboards; Brad Hallen – bass; Doug James – tenor and baritone sax; and Carl Querfurth – trombone.
An original member of the seminal roots music group, Roomful of Blues, Al Basile is a multiple Blues Music Award nominee. He’s written songs for and/or appeared on over 10 Duke Robillard albums, including the Grammy nominated Guitar Groove-a-Rama and Stomp! The Blues Tonight. His songs have also been recorded by such other blues giants as Ruth Brown and Johnny Rawls.
Following up the critical success of Basile’s last CD, Woke Up in Memphis (2014), the tracks on B’s Expression are firmly rooted in the blues and soul styles of the Memphis sound epitomized by Stax and Hi Records, while offering up a palette of songs that showcase his unique ability as a wordsmith. A widely published poet as well as songwriter, Basile has a way with words not normally heard in roots music. A testament to his scholarly credits, at one point last winter he had work in five different poetry magazines, simultaneously. He’s also given talks on songwriting and metric poetry writing at Boston University’s Editorial Institute and the West Chester Poetry Conference.
“It’s pertinent to my branching out as a writer,” says Basile, “that aside from getting a song on Johnny Rawls’ last CD, I’ve been writing custom songs for New Jump Blues, a West Coast band that advertises itself as jump blues and calypso, and has three singers, one of whom is actor Antonio Fargas (“Huggy Bear” from the classic Starsky and Hutch TV show in the 1970s and a bunch of “Blaxploitation” films in the ‘70s/’80s). They put out a CD a year ago and followed it up by playing the Playboy Jazz Festival. Recently, they shot a video of a song I wrote for them for COZI-TV, an NBC affiliated network that shows vintage ‘60s-‘80s television fare. The stuff I write for that band is in classic R&B style, but it’s tailored to the three singers, who assume characters and do a kind of stage show where they sing and dance. Writing for them is a lot like writing for musical theater, which I started doing way back when I wrote musicals at Brown University, except in an R&B style.”
During the songwriting phase of B’s Expression, Basile also did something he hasn’t done before on any of his solo recordings. “While I was writing these songs, I also came up with the arrangements for each of them that I wanted to follow once we got in the studio,” he stresses. “In the past, I’d write the songs and take them into the studio and work out the arrangements with all the musicians who played on the sessions. The result is that this new CD is my most fully- realized album yet.”
While all of the songs on B’s Expression have a story behind their creation, it’s worth pointing out instances for Basile’s inspiration of several of them as listed in the liner notes:
“Answer Me” – “‘Silence is the unbearable repartee’ is variously attributed to Chesterton, Dickens, and Alexander Theroux. Whoever said it first, this song is an attempt to bear the silence of others by giving a little context to a plea for a response. Sometimes it feels like no one is ever going to answer!”
“Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Being Right?” – “I wrote this with the jump blues style of Louis Jordan in mind and then changed the groove for this version. The lyric still sports his brand of humor, I think – blues humor can take all kinds of stylistic changes on the musical side (see any Johnny “Guitar” Watson remake, for example).”
“I Didn’t Come Here to Lie” – “Some straight talk to a friend who needs to hear it – but stopping short of judgement. There is always something we can’t know about another, no matter how much we do know. We sure like to draw conclusions, though – with or without sufficient evidence.”
“It Wasn’t That Good” – “You could say this was inspired by James Brown’s After You Done It. Sometimes songs really do inspire other songs. But sometimes even someone you’ve chased for a long time turns out to be what Gertrude Stein said about Cleveland. Romantically speaking, of course.”
“Somethin’s Missing” – “This is my take on the Ellington It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) theme. Swing is a groove, the first one I ever really loved. But there are others that have come along since, and if you don’t have one – you better have another. Can’t even make coffee without one.”
“Whole Lot of Good Good Lovin’” – “No, it’s not Good Lovin’ and it’s not Whole Lotta Love. It’s not even Fats’ Whole Lotta Lovin’ or JB’s Good Good Lovin’.But there’s been bragging in blues since forever, and if the shoe fits….”
“You Know – You Don’t Know” – “The idea for this started back in the Roomful of Blues days; when we first worked with Cleanhead Vinson, he looked at us thoughtfully one day and murmured, ‘You know…you don’t know. You know…you don’t know.’ Exactly what he meant is anybody’s guess, but I took the phrase and applied it to the dramatic situation that’s described in the lyric. This is an example of a song allowing someone to say something he couldn’t otherwise put into words.”