Rhode Island-based singer/songwriter/cornetist Al Basile teams up with guitarist/producer Duke Robillard and his outstanding band to deliver this pleasing collection of originals.
Inspired by the grooves of Little Junior Parker, Slim Harpo, Booker T and the MG’s and others, the lyrics are chockful of contemporary themes, dashes of sentimentality and wry observations about life and delivered atop charts with a comfortable, old-school feel.
It’s a return to the root for Basile — an eight-time Blues Music Award nominee who possesses a master’s degree from Brown University and spent 25 years teaching English, music and physics in high school before becoming a fulltime musician and writer. As a songwriter, his material has been covered by everyone from Ruth Brown to the Blind Boys of Alabama and Johnny Rawls to jazz great Scott Hamilton.
He took a major leap of faith with his most recent CD, 2018’s successful Me & the Originator, a totally different, 25-cut opus that intermingled originals with spoken words as it told the story of an imaginary musician who stumbled across someone else’s lyrics and set them to song.
A longtime member of Roomful of Blues and someone whose career has been interspersed with Robillard’s since the ‘70s, Basile has always been inspired by the play of horn wizards Roy Eldridge and Miles Davis and their frequent use of the Harmon mute in their play. “It has a penetrating edge that stands up to the sound of the electric guitar,” he says, noting that the device came in handy on this CD because of the difficulties any musician faces when he has to follow one of Duke’s powerful solos.
Duke produced the album, which was recorded at Lakewest Studios in West Greenwich, R.I. His longtime band – keyboard player Bruce Bears, percussionist Mark Teixeira and bassist Brad Hallen – provide the backing with assists from Roomful veterans Doug James and Jeff “Doc” Chanonhouse on tenor sax and trumpet.
The 14th album in his catalog, this one mixes straight blues and R&B as it describes real-life issues. “So-Called Storyteller,” a slow blues, opens with a Robillard six-string solo before Basile answers a critic — who uses the words of the title derisively – by insisting: “I’m not tryin’ to sell you nothin’/I’m givin’ it away for free./No matter what you heard/I didn’t make up a word./I just tell it like it has to be.” Al’s horn drives the message home during an extended mid-tune break.
The loping “Five Roads” offers an invitation to a late to meet him where the streets cross a bay before the Booker T-inspired “Razor Wire.” It compares time spent with a particular lady like a great meal. She’s “sweet to the tooth,” but knows she’s going to feed him barbed strands to chew on before the dinner’s done.
“Try One” soulfully addresses addiction – cleverly without any specifics – before a military drumbeat kicks off “Don’t Fool with the Truth,” which describes someone who “knows lyin’ like a hog knows fat.” The message Al delivers is generic, but has great weight when one applies it to our current political state of affairs. Up next, the romantic, horn-propelled “Give Me That Look” comes across with a Memphis feel and features to-die-for solos, while the percussive “Looking for a Cookie” describes a trip to the county fair and mixes sweets with sexual tension.
“Can’t Keep Me from Dreaming,” a song of unrequited desire, follows before Basile and Robillard trade licks for “I See You There,” which finds the singer spotting his ex and trying to avert his eyes, and “I Ain’t Changing,” in which Al knows it’s useless to alter his lifestyle to please a lady because it’s already too late – a theme that’s driven home in the keyboard-propelled ballad, “You Don’t Know Lonesome.”
The mood brightens with the easy-greasy “What Dogs Wanna Do,” a metaphor that uses canines as it describes how both a man and woman will act when set free to run through town. The pleasant “Talking in a Room” sings praise of conversations before “Time Has Made a Fool of Me,” a complaint about aging, brings the set to a close.
Available through most major retailers, B’s Hothouse features great musicianship and interesting insights throughout.