Articles Special Feature

The Toronto Star
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
October 12, 2000
Montreal Bistro review

Vet bluesman Pickett's passion all fired up

Michael Pickett has paid his blues dues, a lengthy career including playing with a pantheon of greats - John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and more - and now, finally, recognition from a broad audience as well as his peers.

Honours and a pair of recent excellent CDs seem to have fired up passionate Pickett even more, and his performance before a sparse crowd at last night's opening set in Montreal Bistro was full of controlled fire and buoyant, swaggering confidence.

The Montreal Bistro?  The jazz haven with its excellent sound rarely hosts blues acts; regulars were sifting long memoreis in vain to recall a full blues week at the club.

But Pickett, using Bill McCauley on organ to add heft and the grit-and-grease sound that emerges from combining harmonica, guitar and Hammond B3, craftily underscored links to jazz while he tore through broad blues-stylings.

His lived-in voice with its lining of sandpaper fits most contexts, as does his emotionally charged harp work, skills that he emphasizes by employing his own smart lyrics well worth a hard listen.  (The band is in through Saturday.)

The band is seasoned, with guitarist Shawn Kellerman, bass Steve Chadwick and drummer Gary Craig, so a solid, well-paced performance is a given.  But they have a pleasing urgency about them , working up a smoulderfest that delivered a potent mixture of drama and pyrotechnics.

The opening heady brew showed off snap-crackle dynamics, and then Pickett launched into his patented eclectic material like 'The Killing Floor' over a Taj Mahal model shuffle with surging undercurrents from bass and drums and strident guitar, all chunky funky grooves over which his harp soared and subsided.

The sardonic lyrics of 'World Gone Crazy' with wry organ commentary showed how Pickett's eclectic approach makes the harp an extra voice in the clattering proceedings, wailing and crying over the wide, loose backbeat and razor-sharp licks, while 'Walkin'' [sic] was redolent with droll humour and a plethora of local references and caustic observation.

' Conversation With The Blues ' was a relatively langorous piece of updated Delta storytelling while "My Mind's Made Up" was full of rolling incantatory phrasing. 

Geoff Chapman



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