Review: Al Basile’s ‘Last Hand’ deals fantastic blues

Al Basile’s “Last Hand” will be released on Aug. 21, 2020.

The tale of an older man’s May-December dream romance with a much younger lady set to blues nocturne melodies? Who would have thought? Well, the great Al Basile did. The man always thinks, always seems to be writing songs, and pursues a variety of other literary and musical interests to boot.

Photo by Meghan Sepe / Mark Pucci Media

Basile was the first trumpet player with Roomful Of Blues in the mid-1970s, but he’s also an oft-published poet, and holds a Master’s degree in writing from Brown University. With the pandemic keeping musicians off the road, Basile decided to bide his time by writing, recording, and releasing “Last Hand” as the fantastic blues album that it turned out to be. But he’s also been preparing to turn all its songs into a dramatic audio play, complete with actors.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy these songs, and the story, for there’s much here to savor. “It Ain’t Broke” sets it all — especially your feet and rear end — in motion. Basile and his mean band (pianist Bruce Bears, bassist Brad Hallen, and drummer Mark Teixeira) create a swinging groove with a swagger right in step with the cocksure, come-hither sentiment expressed.

Motive for that attitude lies then in “Invisible Man,” a dark, complex look backwards at a boyhood full of reservation concerning the opposite sex — one that’s still buried deeply. And so it goes. Further details of the saga need not be revealed, because the music alone will have listeners spellbound from beginning to end. Wafts of jazz float across and intersect with shades of blues wonderfully, the musicians conjuring various scenes and locales with their deft playing.

New Orleans comes to mind often, especially evident in the strutting beat of “What Would You Be Doing?” Bears really shines. Basile’s friend Duke Robillard, the founder of Roomful, usually plays superlative guitar on Basile’s albums. But in a surprisingly welcome move here, there’s no guitar to be found. Bears’ sparkling, cascading rolls of piano notes therefore share the spotlight with Basile’s superb vocalizing. His voice is tough, but conveys all manner of expression. He practically never picks up a horn either, but does play cornet at the end of “Don’t,” using it to accent the strange, tentative feeling of freezing a moment in time. And any moment in time that Al Basile fills with his music is a moment well worth experiencing. 

— Tom Clarke

  • Al Basile
    ‘Last Hand’
    Label: Sweetspot Records
    Release: Aug. 21, 2020

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 23 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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