Toronto, Ontario, Canada
May 2000
Conversaton With The Blues  WTCD002

As with Blues Money , this album has some of the funkiest modern blues you're going to hear along with some music not normally associated with Pickett. Shawn Kellerman, fresh from a long stint on guitar with Bobby Rush, fits right in and "Big Train" spreads the news quickly. It's a Pickett/Kellerman contribution to "the blues is alright" anthems that'll have dancers "From Vancouver to West Africa" on the floor. This is one of the best of the full band numbers, with horns and backup singers. "The River" switches to acoustic quartet with Pickett on resophonic guitar as well but keeps the beat going behind a traditional theme. "Love Don't Mean It" has one of the most interesting melodic hooks I've heard for the first of the new ballads followed by an original Stax-gospel full-band highlight, "When I Lay My Burden Down", with Jackie Richardson, Liz Tilden and Troy Adams contributing mightily. "Look Out At The Weather" has Teddy Leonard guesting on guitar on a mid-tempo grinder with great lyrics and John Johnson on saxes. The title song is the one with the string quartet and Doug Riley's arrangement makes you forget all the string synths you've heard on this type of song in the past! Slavka Kobrin helped write this self-explanatory masterpiece. "Cecil & Spadina" has Michael reminiscing with his guitar and Marty Cordrey on doumbek. "It Don't Matter To Me" re-establishes his patented amplified harp sound with the band bringing the tempo back up again. "Bad Love" is not the Eric Clapton/Robert Cray song but a mostly acoustic original ballad that features Kevin Breit on guitar and mandolin. "Junk Thang" features more of that Pickett harp with Teddy Leonard back in the band which in turn brings us to the album's only obvious concession to a deadline - a song from one of the masters. In this case we get a fine new arrangement of Memphis Slim's "Mother Earth" that brings the large band back on. The final song and the other non-original is hardly a stop gap either. The choice of Molly Johnson's "When Night Comes", written with Doug Riley, was inspired. It brings up front and centre how well Michael is singing these days. With just Reily's piano and in unfamiliar vocal territory, his performance brings everything to a very satisfying end. Gary Craig played drums on most of the album with Rick Lazar on percussion as well.  

John Valenteyn


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