Who can dispute the harmonica mastery of Canadian music legend Michael Pickett? That was proven once again when Michael won the 2002 Maple Blues Award for best harp player. However, his guitar prowess has been a bit of a secret. Pickett's six-string first emerged on the Conversation With The Blues disc. After his long anticipated 1998 debut received critical acclaim, Michael continued to front a high energy electric blues band. They toured madly and received positive reviews where ever they performed. After a long hiatus, in the spring of 2000, Michael once again started performing acoustic guitar. He began delving deeper and deeper into the world of acoustic roots music. Eventually he became so entangled he abandoned his electric act in favour of being a solo acoustic artist. On Solo (Wooden Teeth Records), Pickett plays as passionate and intense as the emotion-laden cover photo. The 11 tracks on this 40 minute disc were co-produced by Pickett and Alec Fraser. Michael handles vocals, guitar (Gibson 6-string, 12-string, 1931 National Steel Duolian, and Yanuziello resophonic) and rack harmonica (Lee Oskar). There is a pretty even split amongst songs featuring the guitar only versus tunes with guitar/harp. "Louise" is an autobiographical reflection upon the meeting of his wife and the deep love that he has for her. How appropriate to emanate this via a deep Delta blues tune. We are talking as thick as the mud in the Mississippi River here. "Blues Is A Friend Of Mine" is foot-stompin,' brown-jug country blues. This is as up-tempo as acoustic blues can get and should get. His wandering harp notes shriek and his vocals get a workout on "Steady Rollin' Man." "The 'Hood" has an accompanying video which aired as part of Bravo's Talkin' Blues TV series. Here, the vocals briefly sound like Long John Baldry and Howlin' Wolf. The tune's attractive melody contrasts with its words about the desperate human condition along skid row. "Cecil & Spadina" reappears from the Conversation disc and is considered a bonus track. The song's basic melody is established over a few notes; still, the riff created is memorable. Obviously, Pickett learned plenty at this landmark Toronto street corner where a live music club exists. Michael is known for being outspoken and proudly Canadian. So, lyrics that tell of moving to California seem out of place. However, lyrics like the 'president up in the White House, I believe the man is insane' from "World In An Uproar" are the kind we have grown to expect. His guitar is unrepentant on "Lonesome Road," with its challenging arrangement, while the instrumental "Bill's Song" is a lovely tune that is too short. Not being an acoustic connoisseur, I felt the oomph from the electric albums is missing. Solo acoustic music requires an acquired taste. If that is absent from your palate, the music on this disc may drag. However, this CD does not lack direction, and it clearly showcases Michael's diversity as a performing artist and songwriter. The seven original songs mesh so tightly with the covers, many will think all the tunes are originals. If you are looking for Mississippi Delta blues, why not experience it Toronto-style with Michael Pickett. 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 .
- Tim Holek
© 2006 Michael Pickett