Michael Pickett has been a major force on the Canadian blues scene for thirty years. Throughout the 70s and 80s, he was the leader of a couple popular blues bands and essentially laid the foundation for roots music in the Toronto area. Now, the singer/songwriter/harpist is on the scene again with his own dynamite band. Pickett is far more challenged by performing original material. Its not surprising that this 2nd solo effort includes 10 Pickett-written originals from its 60 minute, 12 song set. On it, he is joined by some of Toronto's finest musicians. However, his current touring band provides the core. The high caliber musicianship of Steve Chadwick (bass) and the late Bill McCauley (B3 organ) can be heard on most tracks.
The CD begins the way Michael hits a stage and that's smoking! The funky blues of "Big Train" has a full, rich sound thanks to the inclusion of sax, trombone and backing vocals. Pickett is fortunate to have hot blues guitarist Shawn Kellerman in his band. On this tune, Shawn plays one of his signature, blistering Texas blues style solos. On "The River", Michael is dynamite on harp as expected. However, he pleasantly surprises by turning in a sharp performance on resophonic guitar on this Taj Mahal influenced tune. At times, Pickett can be abrasive with a strong streak of cynicism. That comes across strong on "Love Don't Mean It" with its hypnotizing groove. The R&B sounds of the 60s are infused with a gospel lyric on "When I Lay My Burden Down". This song should be in the top 10 on roots music radio!
The title track has a jazz feel to it and spotlights Pickett's strong and clear voice. He chose it as the title because 'the interplay between musicians is like a conversation.' "Cecil & Spadina" is about an infamous downtown Toronto intersection. It is the site of Grossman's Tavern where Michael really learned how to play the blues. The front porch is where "Bad Love" was written. It was an appropriate setting for this delta blues tune which sounds straight from the banks of the Mississippi. "Junk Thang" is an instrumental that showcases Pickett's brilliant harp in a traditional blues setting. The harp'n continues on "Mother Earth" where Michael plays clear, sharp notes that deliver quality instead of quantity.
This is not your stereotypical Canadian jump blues band but rather one capable of delivering a diverse collection of top-notch, original roots music. Pickett's innovative melodies result in assorted styles of modern blues. You won't hear the extended, virtuoso harp solos that we have come to expect at his live shows but this CD isn't about one particular instrument, its all about the music. You would never know this is an independent release based on the highly professional packaging and production work. Even big name labels struggle to achieve such standards. This CD has been nominated for numerous Maple Blues Awards (Canadian Handys) including the recording and producer of the year. After one spin, you will know why.
For CDs and information contact: Wooden Teeth Records, PO Box 501, 3364 Keele Street, Toronto, ON Canada M3J 3L0 Tel (416) 631-8393 Fax (416) 633-3254 Website: www.michaelpickett.com
This review is copyright © 2001 by Tim Holek, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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