Monday, July 02, 2012

Johnnie Bassett Can Make It Happen

A couple years after his acclaimed The Gentleman Is Back, recording, that gentleman of the Detroit Blues, Johnnie Bassett, is back with a new release on Sly Dog Records, I Can Make That Happen. This new release on the Mack Avenue subsidiary label brings the veteran singer and guitarist produced by keyboardist Chris Codish and saxophonist Keith Kaminski, both of whom have long tenures playing with Bassett. The program of eleven songs display Bassett's genial vocal style and jazz-inflected guitar that evokes some of B.B. King's recordings from the mid-1960's. I am particularly thinking of the live Blues Is King album although Bassett is a little bit lighter in his attack. In any event, the performances here are rendered with a relaxed soulfulness and a definite panache starting from the opening moments of his salute to his home city Proud To Be From Detroit, to the closing moments of Let's Get Hammered.

Proud To Be From Detroit is a mix of travelogue (going from Greek Town to Belle Isles), a salute to the city's sports teams, ladies, music and other matters ("if you come to visit, you may never leave") set to a nice funky groove (James Simonson's bass merits note) with Bassett taking a fleet, skittering solo. Its followed by some risqué blues including Bob Codish’s Love Lessons, where Johnnie will take this lady to school, taking care of her in home room and helping her with her homework. Spike Boy has strong guitar in addition to intriguing railroad imagery, as Johnny boasts of being a natural born driving and is better than any machine. Horns help frame the performance. The title track, by Chris Codish and Nashville songwriter Jim ‘Moose’ Brown, has a nice groove as Johnnie tells this lady that if she wants to get out of her rut, come to him and he can make it happen, and if she needs some satisfaction, well Johnnie can make it happen.

A fairly straight cover of Solomon Burke’s Cry For Me follows and is a pleasant performance, although Johnnie’s vocal does not carry the weight that Burke does. My own favorite rendition of this song is the deep southern soul reading that Bobby Powell gave it. Bob Codish’s Teach Me To Love, is a classic R&B ballad with Detroit blues diva Thornetta Davis sharing the vocals and Keith Kaminski taking a booting tenor sax solo. Kaminski contributed the swinging instrumental Dawging Around, which is a tribute to the late Scott “E. Dawg” Petersen, who was a member of Bassett’s Blues Insurgents. This finds the leader in more of jazzy guitar vein, Kaminski is clean and solid and Codfish gets gritty on the organ. More funk follows on Cha’mon as Bassett urges everyone to get grooving while on Motor City Blues he sings about some of the harder times in Detroit while expressing an optimism that the Motor City will be coming back. The closing Lets Get Hammered is an ebullient shuffle with Codfish rocking the 88s where Johnny says to bring him some alcohol.

Included on my advance copy is a nice understated cover of Jimi Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary, but which has been replaced on the issued CD by a cover of Reconsider Baby, apparently at the request of the Hendrix estate. I cannot comment on that latter performance, but even if were a lesser performance this would not change the opinion that this is another well produced and enjoyable recording. Johnnie Bassett is still making it happen with his soulful and sophisticated blues.

A publicist provided me with a review copy. Here is Johnnie doing a selection from his prior album.


Bmurraygroove said...

A wonderful review of an incredible artist, thanks!

muddyw123 said...

One of the all time best in his genre. Great Review too!