Michael Pickett has been around for a long time. He was a founding member of the legendary Whiskey Howl, one of the two bands credited with launching Toronto's blues scene back in the sixties (the other, for the record, being Downchild, still together some 30-odd years on).
Soldiering on in various configurations following the demise of that project, Michael wasn't heard from much in the late eighties/early nineties. One can only speculate on what fans might have lost as a result of his relative silence in those intervening years, but perhaps it's for the best; it's eminently obvious Michael was more than ready to make his artistic statement when he returned with a vengeance in the late nineties. The 'new' Michael Pickett Band quickly became one of Canada's hottest draws, with the first two discs under his own name (1998's "Blues Money" and his 2000 release, "Conversation With The Blues") both nominated for a Juno, Canada's equivalent to the Grammy, as Best Blues Album.
But even long time fans were surprised when Michael would often take a solo turn to start his second set. Having built his reputation on a combination of technical mastery and fierce, uncompromising intelligence as a harmonicist, few knew he was also an accomplished guitarist. Audiences loved it, however, and Michael found himself increasingly drawn to the simplicity and stark honesty of performing alone with just guitar and harp for accompaniment.
Originally intended as a demo, his latest outing, the simply named "Solo," finds Michael in the setting he now prefers. (There's one track here taken directly from "Conversation" that features Marty Cordrey on doumbek, a hand-held drum). With seven of the disc's eleven tracks originals, Michael further reveals his soul with compositions that inevitably avoid the obvious, often stepping outside twelve-bar convention in the process. But there's no question whatsoever that Michael's songs are pure blues. They may be contemporary by chronological standards, but few would argue that stylistically they harken back to a much earlier era. With most artists that would raise questions of 'authenticity.' With Michael, the issue isn't even on the radar; these are songs straight from the heart, delivered with unflinching honesty, searing passion, and unquestionable authority. Michael's voice has always been the equal of his instrumental skills, and the years have only added to the unforced gravitas he brings to every lyric. Quite simply, when Michael sings it, we believe it. (I honestly can't think of anyone better, more convincing, at material of this ilk).
Some solo blues recordings seem a response to the cluttered complexity of modern life; fine as far as it goes, but often there seems something missing, as though it's merely this year's perspective on things, eventually to be superseded by next year's. Mr. Pickett's work, however, has that timeless quality that says we'll still be listening a long, long time from now.
This is one for the ages - my very highest recommendation!
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Mail: P. O. Box 501, 3364 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 3L0
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