Multi-BMA Nominee Al Basile Comes Up Aces With ‘Last Hand’

Basile describes the even-dozen tracks on Last Hand as telling the story of a May/December romance - which ends too soon - from the man's point of view.

Eight-time Blues Music Award-nominated singer/songwriter/cornetist Al Basile announces an August 21 release date for his new album, Last Hand, on Sweetspot Records. Basile (vocals and cornet) is joined on the new disc by a sparse trio of Bruce Bears on keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixeira on drums, that give the album a late-night, after-hours groove falling comfortably between blues and jazz. Last Hand was produced by Al Basile and recorded by Jack Gauthier at Lakewest Studios in West Greenwich, Rhode Island.

Basile describes the even-dozen tracks on Last Hand as telling the story of a May/December romance – which ends too soon – from the man’s point of view. It’s also his initial stab at producing himself. All of his previous albums had been produced by his long-time friend and fellow Roomful of Blues alumnus Duke Robillard.

“For my first producing effort, I wanted to keep it relatively simple on the engineering side,” Basile says. “So it’s piano and organ, bass, drums and vocals. I play only two short horn solos. The focus is on the songs and my vocals, because the songs tell a story. Not like one of my earlier albums, Me & the Originator, where there were spoken sections between the songs – this time the songs tell the story by themselves, and the listener can follow along and connect the dots. Like the Stations of the Cross (for you Catholics out there) – you get the highlights of the story and you follow where it’s going. The story is about an older man who meets a younger woman but can’t believe that she’s attracted to him. Eventually, he overcomes his mistrust, and they have an up and down relationship that ends in a surprising way. The songs are stylistically exactly like my other recent stuff – half blues, half other roots forms. The arrangements just don’t have guitar parts or horns. It sounds like an Al Basile record in every other way. I think people will realize from it how much of an influence I had on the production side of my earlier projects, especially those of the last five years.”

Since the current pandemic has cut back drastically on many options for a live album release showcase in a music venue, Basile is exploring the idea of creating his own “virtual” album release show performance with an audio play, complete with actors complementing him as the main characters in the story, which he hopes to announce soon as a livestream.

Basile provides some background on audio plays (they used to be called radio plays). “I ran a radio theater at Brown University in the ‘70s where I wrote, directed, produced and acted in radio drama,” he states. “A few years ago, I wrote Flash Blind, a neo-noir thriller as an audio play, and recorded it with some actors last fall. I entered it into the national audio theater competition, HEARnow, which normally meets for three days in Kansas City in June. It was chosen to be featured at the silver level in this year’s festival, but the virus forced the event to be shifted from a live one to a website which showcased podcasts of the featured plays. It’s currently featured from Mid-June to mid-August.

“With the national competition happening each year, I started thinking about something for me to submit for next year. Since I already had the story of Last Hand in the songs on the CD, I decided to fill it out with dramatic scenes which set up the songs the way the book does in a musical play. That would make the CD of Last Hand like an original cast album from a show, where you don’t get the scenes but do get the songs. By making an audio drama version of the scenes with the songs in place, I’d have an audio musical which I could submit to the HEARnow festival as a special drama with songs. With the release date in August, I have enough time to record the scenes and create Last Hand: the Musical, which can be released as a special version of the story told in the CD. I’ve already started working with the actors and will get in the studio later on, probably in July.

“So this project builds on what I did on Me & the Originator by combining music and poetry, and adds drama, like Flash Blind combined drama and poetry. I’m just going to keep on doing things that take all my diverse skills: singing, songwriting, horn playing, playwriting, verse writing, acting, editing and directing to bring it off.”

Basile’s previous album releases have consistently made the top 20 on the Living Blues charts. He’s been nominated eight times for a BMA as Best Horn Player, and his 2016 release, Mid Century Modern, was nominated as Best Contemporary Blues Album. His songs have been covered by Ruth Brown, Johnny Rawls, and the Knickerbocker All Stars. Guests on his own releases have included the Blind Boys of Alabama, Sista Monica Parker, Sugar Ray Norcia, Jerry Portnoy, and jazz great Scott Hamilton.

Celebrated for his mastery of lyric writing as well as music, Al’s skill with words extends to his other career as a poet: he is published regularly in leading journals, has won prizes, and has two books in print collecting his work from the Seventies until the present day. For the last three years he has taught lyric writing, led panels, and performed at poetry conferences.

Born in Haverhill, Mass., on the north shore of Boston, Al was the first to receive a Master’s degree from Brown University’s writing program. He was the first trumpet player for Roomful of Blues in the mid-Seventies, and he’s enjoyed a long relationship as a co-writer and sideman during Robillard’s solo career since the Eighties, garnering credits as songwriter and trumpet player on a dozen of Duke’s CDs and DVDs. In 1998, he released his first solo CD on his own Sweetspot label. He also taught English, music, and physics in a private Rhode Island high school for 25 years before devoting himself to music and poetry full time in 2005.

Al Basile

*Feature image by Meghan Sepe

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