Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents
Coming off of one of 1996ís best releases (I Gave My Life to the Blues on the Dutch Black Magic label), Detroitís Johnnie Bassett follows up with an encore that, by any standard, deserves to be at the top of 1997ís heap. Guitarist and soulful vocalist Bassett and his talented combo tear it up with as tasteful a set of jazzy blues and rocking R&B not heard since the likes of Tiny Grimes or Billy Butler.
Credit Ron Levy for adding Bassett to the roster of his fledgling label and for the inspiration of co-producing this album with Memphis legend Willie Mitchell. Since the í50s, Florida-born Bassett has been a prominent presence in Detroit blues and R&B. As a member of Joe Weaver and the Bluenotes, he participated in numerous recording sessions for Detroitís seminal doo-wop label, Fortune. Along the way, Bassett gigged with Motownís blues royalty, John Lee Hooker and Eddie Burns, as well as visiting dignitaries such as Joe Turner and Dinah Washington.
Since those heady days, Bassettís weapon of choice has been the biggest hollow body he could get his hands on to fire off his well-buttered, jazzy, single-string solos. His tone is lean and clean, his phrasing fluid and fleet. There are enough guitar lessons (and lessons in taste) in Bassettís inventive solos to keep an aspirant busy for years. Check out his leads on the rocking "Raise the Roof, Raise the Rent" and the ballad "Memories of Your Perfume," or his rapid-fire vamping on the jazz crossover "I Canít Get It Together." And the great news is that Bassett plays his strong but supple vocal instrument with equal aplomb and skill.
The Blues Insurgents include one of the most talented rhythm tandems heard in a long time in B-3 whiz Chris Codish and bandleader/drummer R.J. Spangler, whose strong jazz background is evident in his handling of the polyrhythmic demands of this varied music. His hi-hat and cymbals work is particularly deft.
Codish delivers all the pulsating bass work from the Hammondís keyboard and pedals a la Jimmy Smith. The youngster and his musical dad also lend their songwriting talents to six of the albumís tunes, and all share a penchant for pithy lines like "Life donít have instructions, so Iíve figured it out myself," or "Iíve still got the blues, but Iíve got íem in my Cadillac" and "My heart is broke in pieces and I just canít find the glue."
The horn section of tenor saxist Keith Kaminski and trumpeter Dwight Adams handle all of the driving R&B support and each contributes strong solos throughout. Itís so nice to hear horns that donít sound phoned-in for a change.
Listeners who havenít sampled Johnnie Bassett yet are missing some of the best music of the period. This is a great chance to check him out at his best.
ó Jack Oudiz