Al Basile,
Soul Blue 7
(Sweetspot, 2009)

Darrell Nulisch,
Just for You
(Severn, 2009)

Al Basile and Darrell Nulisch don't sound the same except in the broadest sense: they're white men performing in styles invented by African Americans. I don't hear the phrase "blue-eyed soul" much anymore, presumably because long ago it lost whatever meaning it once was supposed to convey. The two discs under review here are admirably performed and emotionally persuasive, and what more is music about?

Nulisch, a veteran who sings with conviction and nuance, is of a long line of Euro-American soul/r&b singers who once upon a time -- though it is curiously unremembered, in the mid- to latter 1960s -- figured prominently on the Top 40. Now guys like him play the blues and jazz circuit. Nulisch, in fact, is a founding member of the Dallas-based Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets and later a singer for Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters. The credentials are impeccable, and Just for You is the work of a pro.

Nulisch's music, with its echoes of Bobby "Blue" Bland, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, is framed in punctuating horns and sinewy guitar licks and propelled by sweet/tough vocals. It's focused -- in common with nearly all r&b -- on romantic relationships, mostly failed ones. Even the celebratory songs, which pop music more often than not drenches in syrup, feel gritty, true and lived-in sincere.

A man of many parts (one of them novelist), Basile is a trumpeter/cornetist, a vocalist, and a songwriter. Soul Blue 7, which showcases them all, is blues and soul, but the jazz gives the sound a special kick. (Consider, for but one example, the dazzling "You Showed Me Something.") At moments, Basile brings Mose Allison and even Van Morrison to mind, not because he's an imitator but because he's the product of the same influences, with a comparable musical and literary intelligence. Lest there be any doubt what the former might be, an interior photograph captures a shelf housing some of his CD collection, and it's sufficient to cause me to swoon with envy. The only discs I don't covet are the ones I already have.

Basile was a trumpeter in the original Roomful of Blues, founded by Duke Robillard, who produces Soul Blue 7 with his characteristic flair. Basile went on to play with the likes of Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Johnny Shines, Big Joe Turner and Helen Humes, each with his or her quite distinctive vision of the blues tradition. The sum of its influences and much more, Soul Blue 7's sound is always bright, swinging and smart. While the traditions are always happily in evidence, the music Basile creates is very much his own, at once of the moment and outside time. The pleasure is entire.

review by
Jerome Clark

16 January 2010

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