Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Gentleman Johnnie Bassett Is Back

2010-0724 Pocono Blues Day 2-2626, originally uploaded by NoVARon.
It has been so nice to see Detroit’s Johnnie Bassett bring his sophisticated and urbane sound back and while this release was issued in 2009, and this review originally appeared in the August 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 319). I have a particular fondness for Johnnie and his earlier recordings as well as his live shows. For example, he put on a terrific show at the Pocono Blues Festival this past July (pictured above). Anyway here is the review.

Its been too many years since that Detroit bluesman Johnnie Bassett has had a new release and thankfully the Mack Avenue subsidiary Sly Dog has issued the aptly title “The Gentleman is Back.” Perhaps its the misfortune of his prior label going under after releasing several distinctive recordings characterized by Bassett’s soulful baritone and his jazzy guitar style with its mix of T-Bone Walker, mid-sixties B.B. King (think the “Blues is King” album) mixed with a dash of Grant Green’s bluesy jazzy styling. As Bob Porter says in the liner notes, Johnny does not waste a note, “no flash-all content.” On this new album he is joined by several old friends. Chris Codfish on keyboards anchors the backing trio, “The Brothers Groove,” while saxophonist Keith Kaminski fronts the Motor City Horns on a program of mostly originals composed by Codfish’s father Robert or Chris himself with a few choice covers.

The material on “The Gentleman Is Back,” is first-rate with Bassett delivering the lyrics with wry wit or with a world weary recognition that sometimes a woman is set in her ways and gets what she wants, so that in the title of one of Robert Codfish’s songs, “Nice Guts Finish Last.” At the same time, he can commiserate with Chris Codfish as they share the vocal on “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby,” which opens with Chris telling Johnnie about all the men making a pass on his woman. At the same time he sings about not wanting a fashion model with a lean and hungry look, wants a soul food mama who knows how to cook with the kind of loving he can’t leave alone, keep your skinny women, Johnny wants one with “Meat on Them Bones.” Few would dare to put “Georgia on My Mind” on record and expect to be taken serious, and while he can’t match Ray Charles on the Hoagy Carmichael standard, his mellow blues performance certainly is first rate. Perhaps the only miscue is the use of steel guitar on “I Can’t See What I Saw In You,” a country-tinged ballad perhaps but which didn’t need the pedal steel. “I’m Lost,” is a splendid Duncan McMillan song about being lost in love and misery over a woman. I was nor familiar with this tune and the performance here evoke Latimore’s “Let’s Straighten It Out,” as well as the B.B. King recording of Roy Hawkins’ “The Thrill is Gone.” In any event, his vocal is superb and guitar solo is at the top of his game. 

One of the finest gentlemen in the blues is indeed back and we should be quite thankful for Mack Avenue and Sly Dog for that fact and releasing this terrific recording. It should be relatively easy to find.

For purposes of FTC regulations, the review copy was received from the firm handling publicity for the recording label.

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