Al Basile is steady. A founding member in the 1970s of the enduring New England-based jump blues outfit Roomful of Blues, Basile stays busy churning out really good music, including Woke Up in Memphis in 2013, B’s Expression in 2015, Mid-Century Modern in 2016 and last year’s outstanding Quiet Money.
But what is surprising about cornet player and singer-songwriter Basile is his deep literary bent. Long known for his musicianship in Roomful of Blues – which has become an institution, with former members including blues heavyweights like Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl, Sugar Ray Norcia and Basile – and Robillard’s band, Basile had already received a master’s in writing from Brown University and has continued writing poetry throughout most of his life.
For Me & the Originator, Basile let his inner poet out to play. As inspiration, he drew upon Louis Armstrong’s My Musical Journey, weaving a narrative story about a hard-luck musician with songs that complement that narrative. The narrative starts out with the musician jump starting his career after finding a stack of poetry in an old trunk, which he then puts to music, and follows the story through the musician’s rise and fall, and the reflections of the same fictional character. The album reminds me of some of Ry Cooder’s project albums, like Chavez Ravine, My Name is Buddy, and I, Flathead. Basile even performed Me & the Originator as a one-man show at a poetry conference in June.
The music on Me & the Originator, featuring some amazing guitar from Robillard, is pretty good too. The interplay between horns, Robillard’s searing guitar and Basile’s piercing lyrics on “Poor Boy’s Day” stand out, along with the mournful “She Made Me Believe It,” the jazzy “Here Come Your Trouble,” and the brooding “So Wrong for So Long.” Along with Robillard, the album features Mark Texeira on drums, Brad Hallen on bass, Bruce Bears on keyboards, and Doug James and Jeff “Doc” Charnonhouse on horns.
About the author: Bill Wilcox is a roots music enthusiast recently relocated from the Washington, DC area to Philadelphia, PA and back again.