Don't tread in the wrong direction when reading the 'with strings' part of Swing with Strings, as we're not speaking about orchestral 'sweetening' but instead the absence of drums and thus not only a heightened emphasis on guitarist sessioneers Fred Bates and Bob Zuck but also in the repertoire choice of composers whose work is very often orchestralized or written with string sections in mind: Stephen Sondheim, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers, etc. What's really of import on this disc is twofold: the swing element and the walkback to times gone by, that constantly rediscovered slice of decades from the 30s to the 60s, the era wherein Al Basile has always felt most comfortable.
Where Al's past releases have looked to his evocations of later songs and singers,—At Home Next Door (here), for instance, ranged from echoes of Johnny Otis to timbres of Donald Fagen—the milieu when Tin Pan Alley turned towards modernity is the main course here, and Swing more than ever features what influenced even Otis and Fagen. Swing unearths what Basile most treasures, and if you don't hear the brass in Al's voice this time around, please make an appointment with your eye, ear, and throat doctor, as the ol' Eustachian tubes need a looking-at. The point is all the more made when Zuck takes over the vocal chores on I Know what I've Got, Don't Know What I'm Getting (guh-reat song title!), an interesting layback into an atmosphere crossing Chet Baker with Jesse Winchester, much more a croon than the hipcat stage-floor presence Al favors, and even when Basile lights into the Lennon-McCartney Things We Said Today, a song already residing halfway between mellifluity and hard-charging, the song is taken up another notch by the guy's boundless natural energy.
Of course Basile's cornet figures prominently in Swing, but mainly as contrast and side swing, 'cause the spotlight's firmly on his voice, which is frequently Sinatra-esque in a Tony Bennett sort of way (and I greatly favor ol' Tone and Dean Martin over Frankie); that is, there's a far greater musical firmament underscoring things from top to bottom. And, far more than what we see in all those pastmasters, there's a pronounced proletarian baseline running through everything here, the strong flavor of a guy who was attending the college of the streets in the Bronx while looking to the stars. Basile, that is, is one of us, not Hollywood cognoscenti.
He comes from the class used to getting its hands dirty, that knows the earth far better than what passes for humanity in the tony Pacific Palisades warrens or Martha's Vineyard, and listening to any two songs in this compendium more than convince the listener of that. Of course, once the work week's over, ya wash up, ya don the duds, and ya go out on the town, and that's exactly what you get here, that night out, not at the Ritz Carlton and its ridiculously sterile spotlessness but instead a balmy summer evening's cool festivity at Big Al's Downtown Sweet Spot. Bring the friends and neighbors, have a good time, drink up, get down, and go home happy. I'll be in the corner with a beer and sidecar handy.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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