No, the cornet isn’t the instrument that calls attention to itself in the blues world. Heck, even in jazz, the cornet has long since taken a back seat to the louder and tougher sounding trumpet. In blues, you might as well forget about the older horn with the valves, unless you happen to be talking about the work of Al Basile. As it turns out, Al Basile is the subject today.
Basile was a member of Roomful of Blues and a long-time associate of Duke Robillard, not to mention a writer of poetry. Unlike your average horn player in a blues outfit, most of whom are content to interject spunky little riffs and sway from side to side in unison while waiting for the occasional solo; Basile has forged a nice little career as a frontman. Robillard and others have recorded his songs, but Basile does a good job presenting them himself.
Al Basile's The Goods
The Goods is album number eight in the leadership role for Basile. It’s a strong collection of original material, mostly in the R&B vein, with soulful singing, chameleonic lead guitar from Robillard, and, of course, some sweet cornet playing. Basile’s songs are sharp, carefully-constructed nuggets of observation and occasional spiritual yearning.
“The Price (I Got to Pay)” kicks things off in fine fashion, establishing the soulful feel of the record and showing off the skilled horn arrangements of Basile and saxophonist Doug James. After Basile takes his first sweetly melodic cornet solo of the record, Robillard takes a tautly twanging country-styled guitar feature. “Along Came The Kid” follows with a nastier, down and dirty soul groove laid down beneath Basile’s powerful imagery about meeting the unexpected and staying true to yourself.
Lie Down In Darkness
The best cut on the record, “Lie Down In Darkness (Raise Up In Light)” gains power from the guest vocal appearance of the Blind Boys of Alabama. The song has beautiful, gospel-drenched chord changes, and the Blind Boys' harmonies behind Basile’s vocals are exquisite. His cornet here hugs those changes, and then Robillard’s guitar cascades to gorgeous effect. The semi-spiritual quality of this one is in stark contrast to the desperate overdriven soul groove of “1.843 Million,” a clever tale of a bank robber trying to get away from the scene of his very large crime. Here, the cornet takes us out of the mood, though; Basile plays a well-constructed solo, but it’s too thin for the grittiness of the song.
It’s too bad Solomon Burke passed away without singing some of these songs – “Time Can Wait” and the gospel-influenced “Distant Ships” would have been perfect fits for the Bishop of Soul, who knew his way around lugubrious soul ballads. Basile’s cornet solos on these two cuts are perfect in context, stinging with faith and love on the former and elegantly searching on the latter.
Down To New Orleans
“I Want to Put It There” and “The Itch” take us down to New Orleans, where the funk is sinuous and the mind is thinking about sex. The former features Bruce Bears plying some Professor Longhair-styled licks, while the latter sounds more like an Allen Toussaint production with backing by the Meters. On “I Want to Put It There,” Basile’s cornet growls straight from the groin while using a plunger, and sounds ecstatic when played free.
Basile puts down his most effective vocal of the record on “Mr. Graham Bell,” a funny rant about the evils of the invention which has come far beyond the wildest dreams of Alexander Graham Bell. Basile has a blast singing lines like, “Wakes me up one more time, I’m going to rip it off the wall;” as if phones are fixed to walls anywhere nowadays. “Reality Show” is a different kind of song, too, with lyrics about a person raised in a world where everything is documented on video of some sort and nothing seems real unless someone is watching. There’s also a funny little New Orleans-styled blues Christmas number, “Don’t Sleep On Santa,” with a Cuban influence to the groove.
Steve's Bottom Line
Al Basile has songwriting intelligence, vocal soul, cornet skills, and the friendship of one of the best guitar players working in the roots music field. Keeping close to the bluesy end of the R&B spectrum, Basile’s The Goods is an enjoyable experience worthy of more attention than he’s gotten in the past. (Sweetspot Records, released March 15, 2011)