Detroit bluesman makes strong return
Reviewed December 2009
The Gentleman is Back
By Johnnie Bassett
Sly Dog Records: 2009
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Johnnie Bassett is a blues singer and guitarist who has been a fixture in Detroit for decades.
The veteran performer put out four CDs in the 1990s, but his new disc, "The Gentleman is Back," refers not only to his nickname but the fact that he has not recorded a studio album since 1999.
Backed by a full band including a horn section and with arrangements that feature Hammond organ and his economical guitar fills, Bassett is comfortable and the material suits him well. The production for some reason varies considerably; the first cut, "A Woman's Got Ways," mixes his vocal too low while other tracks put it hot and on top. The next tune, "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby," with tradeoff vocals with his keyboardist, is murky and sounds like a live recording when it isn't.
The tunes are serviceable, and Bassett is a strong vocalist. His guitar playing on some cuts is an afterthought, a few halfhearted licks, while on other tunes like "Nice Guys Finish Last" and "Feeling Lucky" he is sharp, expressive and fluid.
A cover of "Georgia" can be problematic because Ray Charles broke the mold with his version, but one done here by Bassett with a similar arrangement works very well, and provides a break from the blues. "I'm Lost" is a minor blues that builds the kind of vocal and guitar anguish that BB King did in his similar "The Thrill is Gone."
Bassett's new disc has plenty of high points, and makes it clear why he has such a loyal following in the Motor City. Blues music enthusiasts will enjoy knowing the gentleman is back.
Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.