Johnnie Bassett

The Gentleman Is Back

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Johnnie Bassett has been the most populist bluesman in Detroit for many decades, and his scant few dates for independent labels have been regarded internationally as the best sounding recordings of his peer group. Now with national U.S. distribution from Mack Avenue Records, Bassett has a chance to break out on the commercial scene with a set of contemporary originals that can appeal to a wide range of listeners. His sleek and clean vocal style cannot be mistaken for anything other than what it is, with a sweetness and light that supersede any scolding he might dole out. An economical guitarist who is, to say the least, understated, Bassett keeps a light groove going, punctuated by the equally concise and controlled organ playing of Chris Codish. with his regular trio the Brothers Groove. A small horn section comprising some of the Motor City's best musicians join the band as they strut through this program of simplified, easygoing, no-nonsense current day blues. The bulk of the songs come from Bob Codish. Chris' father, with several of the selections built on current day funky beats surrounding timeless man/woman themes within a traditional urban blues sensibility. On the sillier side is Leonard King's "Your Real Gitchieegumee," while the more serious talking jive warning song "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby" -- both sport the swagger and quick witted fervor of Bassett's former bandmate Bill Heid. The slower, contemporary, cautionary tale "A Woman's Got Ways" and fine chick hustle "Nice Guys Finish Last" retain the same kind of confident air, but with different messages. Where one finds Bassett the most austere and genuine, "Meat on Them Bones" is his jazzy big-band, light shuffle swing-fired search for the woman who is not a glamorous stick figure; conversely, the Chicago blues "I Can't See What I Saw in You" is the most downhearted, love is blind track, and the opposite of what he thought he was looking for. The Motor City Horns, led by the excellent Detroit saxophonist Keith Kaminski, stroll though this material easily without a whimper or complaint, and Kaminski shines through individually, whether with the section or as the lone soloist. On "I Love the Way You Look," Kaminski is the star while Bassett is on the prowl, looking for the golden heart inside a perfect image. There's a strait-laced, pleasant, and patient version of the classic "Georgia on My Mind," and the pining tune "My Old Flame," featuring Chris Codish on piano, not at all the standard of the same name, but an original ballad penned by Bob Codish. Where fellow Detroiters would contend the contrary, "I'm Lost" is a wandering blues very similar to "The Thrill Is Gone." Though not the slam bang, rip roaring blues album some might expect from Bassett, the subdued and mellow framework is age appropriate and quite satisfying. If indeed lost and forgotten no more, Johnnie Bassett has indeed found a comfort zone, and can now be enjoyed or ostensibly discovered for the first time by those outside of his native Michigan environs. It's a fine effort worthy of your kind and rapt attention.

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