Mick Bassett sounds a lot like Bob Dylan. Let's get that out of the way right up front. But Bassett doesn't sound like Dylan in 1966, or 1975, certainly not 1980, and probably not 2008 either. Mick Bassett sounds like some sort of über-Bob, a condensed and compacted amalgamation of all of the various Dylans that we encountered in Todd Haynes' I'm Not There film, with a Basement Tapes reference here, a "Visions of Johanna" or a Rolling Thunder reference there. It somehow doesn't make Bassett any less genuine, though; in fact, it feels honest in a way. So Bassett just gets on with what any good Dylanite would do: He writes good songs. You can sound like anyone you want, but if the songs aren't there, ain't no one gonna give a rat's ass. Especially if Dylan is the reference point. But Bassett can write a song. Sometimes, they sound like Dylan songs. But — here's the thing — sometimes, they don't.
The opening "Found in a Bottle" is "Subterranean Homesick Blues" with an "It's Alright Ma, I'm only Bleeding"-phrased chorus. It's good but it's perhaps a little too close for comfort. "The Second Avenue Saint Plunge" (that's actually more of a Springsteen-like title) then starts out all "Rainy Day Women" woozy, complete with trombones, before revealing itself to be less of a rollicking sing-along and more about ominous desolation and the general emptiness of all things. Good … but sound familiar?
"We've Been Getting Along," the third song, is actually where Bassett and his band begin to step out. There's not a particular Dylan song from which the hooks are cribbed, and the musicians rock much harder here, with superb drumming and frantic spidery guitar lines. And "Mountains Still Stand Like Her Legs" charges out where the previous track leaves off, and although it uses the catchphrase "Don't look back," the songwriting here is pure Mick Bassett. The disc ends with "No One Goes," and — this is a compliment — it's a song you almost wish Dylan had written at the tail end of '66, fucked on too much speed, too many people and too much of everything and all ready for the country. The track is just Bassett on piano, playing and singing in a very Blonde on Blonde fashion — he even drawls out the word "amphetamine" — but it's not a rip-off and happens to be a killer song.
Ultimately, Here's the Whirlwind is an enjoyable listen, front to back. Dylan's there, yeah, but who cares? Most people like songs played by a tight band that's just loose enough and sung by a cat who believes what he's saying 'cause he wrote the shit, right? Right!
Mick Bassett & The Marthas play Wednesday, Nov. 26, at the Majestic Theater, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700 (with the Hard Lessons), and Friday, Nov. 28, at PJ’s Lager House, 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668. See myspace.com/mickba