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October 2023

Al Basile
B's Time
Sweetspot Records

Al BasileAl Basile has been one of the better-known horn players in the blues biz since he got his start back in the early days of Roomful of Blues. He's never strayed far from those early New England roots with his solo career, often using former Roomful band members on his albums, including guitarist and producer Duke Robillard.

B's Time (Sweetspot Records) is a compilation of 17 songs from the 19 albums he's released in the last 25 years, each one showcasing his sublime cornet playing and his blues/jazz hipster vocals that suit the material well. As expected, there's a "who's who" of blues session players backing Basile on the album, too many names to mention here. The album comes with extensive liner notes, so you'll want to go old school and get the CD copy of the album instead of a digital download in order to get the complete scoop behind each song and who's playing what.

Basile wrote 16 of the 17 songs, with the lone cover being the slow, jazzy "Don't Wait Too Long," penned by Sunny Skylar. This late night keeper features Fred Bates with the tasteful jazz guitar solos and Marty Ballou with restrained but effective bass accompaniment. Rich Lataille contributes a beautiful sax solo. It's one of only two songs on which Basile doesn't play his horn, but there's so much happening here that it's not missed.

Perhaps the best song on B's Time is one from the time that Basile delved into gospel music, when The Blind Boys Of Alabama joined in on the beautiful, soulful "Lie Down In Darkness," with his vocals taken to new heights while Bruce Bears takes it to church on piano. Jerry Portnoy brings his always great harmonica playing to a slow, old timey blues, "Hooray For Me," with Matt McCabe rounding out the trio on piano.

Duke Robillard showcases his strong blues guitar licks on the slow blues, "I Really Miss You," with Basile packing plenty of emotion into his vocals. It's the other cut on the album that doesn't include his cornet playing, but again, it's not needed here as Robillard gets more space to tear it up with multiple strong guitar solos. "B.D." is a mid-tempo jazz instrumental that gives Basile and pianist Paul Odeh the chance to show off their chops.

The mid-tempo blues "Losing My Cool" gets a little funky and soulful, with guest Bruce Katz contributing a strong organ solo and Lataille and Doug James both coming in with their respective saxes. Basile gets extra soulful on another album highlight, the feelgood vibes of  "Make A Little Heaven," with Sista Monica Parker helping out on vocals. Our star puts out a very nice cornet solo while James and Lataille pack a lot of sax into the background.

Bears opens "You Don't Know Lonesome" with nice gospel-style piano, leading into Basile's vocals proclaiming "... you don't know lonesome if you don't know me ..." I had to check twice to make sure that this wasn't a Ray Charles composition, because I could certainly imagine it being from the Genius himself.

I could go on and on, but instead will advise you to get B's Time and cherish all 17 songs in the comfort of your own stereo system. Repeated listening to this collection will likely inspire you to dig even deeper into his catalog. He's got plenty of good music to his credit, with B's Time being the best place to start exploring that rich discography.

--- Bill Mitchell
 

 

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