Since Seattle’s Jim Basnight has been around the music business for quite a while now, he’s also a man who knows his way around a song. Emerging in the 1970s as a young turk in the Northwest’s punk rock scene, he started a band called The Moberlys in the late part of that decade. After two Moberly albums (with different lineups), Basnight recorded a collaborative project with a number of songwriters and producers. In the 1990s, Basnight founded another band, The Rockinghams, a power pop trio that had one official release. In 1997, Basnight released The Jim Basnight Thing, a jazzy, folksy collection of songs that had evolved from his acoustic shows. This solo project served as a template for the live group that would be known as the Jim Basnight Band, serving up a popular and eclectic mix of musical styles that feature a full complement of guitars, female and male vocals, trumpet, violin, and piano.
Basnight’s latest collection (which hasn’t yet seen an official commercial release — it’s only available through his own website) is arguably his best. The musically diverse Recovery Room is a chronicle of various Basnight songs recorded from 1999 to 2004. This collaboration with co-producer / engineer Garey Shelton is a tribute to a host of disparate styles, with elements of jazz, blues, country and acoustic rock and pop in evidence. Basnight proves he defies easy categorization — rather, he covers a wide realm and does it well, seeming to have a great deal of fun along the way (and this sense of fun comes across in the recorded performances).
Recovery Room features a number of talented musicians. Ben Smith (Heart) contributes strong drumming, Mike Rollins (bass, saxophone and flute) adds a number of special touches, and former Rockingham Jack Hanan lends a hand with additional basslines. Geoffrey Castle assembled the violin and string quartet arrangements, while jazz visionary Jim Knodle adds some wonderfully distinctive trumpet accents throughout. Basnight’s vocals are joined by the lovely voices of Susan Anthony and Marcella Carros, teaming up to create an often-unique sound that marries the rough-hewn with the polished. Basnight’s superb guitar work is augmented on a few tracks by additional guitarist Bruce Hazen. Last but not least, Jeffrey Sick adds something special with his electric six-string violin and acoustic fiddle virtuosity.
The CD opens with “Miss America”, a mid-tempo, fairly catchy rocker about a man’s dream realized as a nightmare:
“Bye bye Miss America, farewell, you only broke me, /
Bye bye little Barbie doll, /
Farewell, you lowdown dirty bombshell, /
Eyes that showed me the way to such a fabulous day, /
Hair that moved me around, /
Now I’m feeling so down, /
Bye bye hope you find yourself a happy place for my memory.”
“Guilty” features some nice crunchy guitar sounds layered over impressive bass lines, and seamlessly incorporates the female vocals into the mix. It’s a song about assumed guilt, even when you’ve done nothing wrong (looks are what it’s about, not what’s in your heart), but the music itself has a swagger and attitude that lends the track additional power. Plainly put, this is good rock.
Basnight and company shift gears with “Something Peculiar”, heading into ballad mode, supplemented with well-placed strings that add poignancy. It’s a tale of a man sensing that his woman is playing games of deception, intuiting something rotten (for instance, a certain seductive dress she used to wear is being worn again when she goes out on Tuesday nights). While the lyrics aren’t stellar, they effectively convey the situation — and again, the music enhances the song.
A song like “Python Boogaloo” is just hard-edged cranked-up guitar-driven fun. Basnight explains himself this way:
“I like to dance, /
Get up in a viper stance, /
Shake my rattle at the sky. /
The night is young, /
I speak with forked tongue, /
I come to do the python boogaloo.”
More silliness than dance craze, it’s still enjoyable.
Horns lead the way into “Microwave”, a reflection on an ill-fated love ignited by a broken microwave. Basnight admits the relationship wasn’t a “Jackie Collins true romance, / Not another Byronic stance”. It’s another fun song, more nonsensical than anything else, but aren’t a lot of relationships like that?
There’s an almost Philadelphia soul sound and feel behind the track entitled “The Heart”. Accented by strings, the song puts dual male / female vocals to great use, reminding us that “love is a very precious kind of thing”.
On the next track, there’s a sense of British psychedelic rock. The engaging “Look Inside” serves up some pseudo-“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” imagery, all in the interest of getting to know a love far better:
“Look inside this cup of tea, /
Sugar cubes are in the sea, /
Maple bars and ginger men riding through a grey sedan, /
Ask me where does this all lead to, /
Show me the crystal ball, /
I want to look inside of you.”
“Minute Just A Minute” takes us back to the realm of good-time bar-room rock. It’s a song of pickup dreams, expounding while dancing to the beat of disco eternity, a lonely man trying hard to sell the vision: “You could be outrageous, see the lights of Vegas, / Hollywood, you’d shake it just like Rogers and Astaire / Riding high in Texas, you could drive a Lexus all the way to Wall Street, baby, meet a millionaire.”
An over-caffeinated jilted lover pleads for forgiveness in “Comfort Me”. The song (another heightened by dual male and female vocals) effectively captures the disjointed rambles of someone hurting:
“You said goodbye and I said way too many things, /
You can’t stand the rain, /
Love hurts, /
There’s pain in everything, /
Why did you have to go? /
I sure miss having you next to me, /
Please can you forgive me, baby?”
Jim Knodle’s trumpet is superb here.
There’s an unusual cover selection included as well. Basnight and friends take on the old Stories’ hit from 1973, “Brother Louie”. This Brown & Wilson composition examines in broad strokes the conflict of interracial relations (“She was black as the night, / Louie was whiter than white, / Danger, danger, when you taste brown sugar, / Louie fell in love overnight”). This cover adds some jazzy elements, and has sort of a loose jam-session feel to it.
“Riding Rainbows” is an eclectic and infectious jaunt of a song, an amusing examination of one who battles the people in her head (and we hear these leprechaun-like voices too). It’s not just vertigo, it’s all-out delusion, madness and confusion. There’s lots going on here, both musically and otherwise — yet oddly enough, it works.
“Princess” is a slow-paced lounge-y blues build that features a long instrumental interlude. “Ripple In The Bag” trades on yet more silliness, with nonsensical lyrics that go from the difficulty of making a choice (“I’m looking for a triple meaning, / So Monty Hall won’t you tell me what to do? / Behind where Carole Merrill’s standing, / Inside the box in front of door number two”) to “Feeling sad and looney, wishing I was Mickey Rooney”.
The CD closes with “Swoon”, another ramble of self-revelation in the service of a love-ode to one who makes him swoon (“In this open air arena of my soul, / I found a tranquil spot that I can safely go through you”). Mike Rollins adds some lovely flute accents to the proceedings.
Jim Basnight is a diverse talent with rough edges — more Rolling Stones-rooted than Beatles, yet always capable of surprises. His choice of instruments and the interplay between male and female vocals add much to his music, and there’s always an element of fun. This is a band that sounds like it enjoys playing live, and you get a strong sense of that even in these studio tracks. With almost an hour’s worth of music, Recovery Room provides a healthy sampling of Jim Basnight’s diverse talents, enough to make listeners eager for more.