Washington Blues Society
Seattle, WA, USA
July 2001
Conversation With The Blues review

****** What makes a CD and/or artist stand out so much as to garner a nomination for a Juno Award and in fact win the 2001 Canadian Indie Music Award for Blues Album of the Year ? Aside from all the snickering I can hear out there, I'd have to say it's that magic combination of distinctive but appealing vocals, above average talent on his instruments of choice - harmonica and resophonic guitar - plus excellent teamwork among a superb crew of supporting instrumentalists/songwriters too numerous to name individually.

I've heard many blues-harp men and what makes them all special to me is the way they make their instrument "talk" in a language all of its own. Just as some people can talk in a non-stop flow and others can keep their dialogues short and concise, so are the diversities among the various blues harp players.

While most of the 12 songs on the CD seem to conjure up a "speakeasy" atmosphere about them, it doesn't hurt that the opening track Big Train catches your immediate attention with that "BIG, BIG rhythm and blues beat" in the style of Huey Lewis and the News, co-written by Shawn Kellerman.

What also makes this CD a "keeper" are the lyrics. There's a wonderful play on words on the title track, Conversation With The Blues . As well, both this track and Night Comes (co-written by pianist Doug Riley and Molly Johnson) remind me of Bruce Cockburn's "Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse (All Night Long)", a long-time favourite of mine.

There are also a couple of references to Toronto and/or Canada in general (which can never be a bad thing, especially in retrospect), such as in Cecil & Spadina , Michael's ode to Grossman's Tavern, on which he also pays homage to his "built-in Gary Craig (on drums) tempo".

The "blues-rocker" of the CD is It Don't Matter to Me , on which Pickett "backs up" his other players: Steve Chadwick (bass), Shawn Kellerman (electric guitar), the late Bill McCauley (B3 organ), and Gary Craig (on drums). The swing-blues Junk Thang
was co-written by Michael Pickett, Steve Chadwick, Teddy Leonard and Marty Cordrey.

The only track which I can honestly say didn't catch my fancy was the gospel tune When I Lay My Burden Down , as it rather stands out like a sore thumb, especially after the ensuing sassy blues track, Look Out at the Weather , which I liken in style to Robert Cray's "New Blood", with John Johnson on baritone sax. It might have been better placed as the finale, as, after saying this, I noticed on the liner notes that this track was written by Mr. Pickett especially for Blanche and Tony Flaim; indeed, the entire CD was dedicated to Richard "Hock" Walsh and Tony Flaim, both former members of Downchild Blues Band. Well, amen to that.

Other (but not all) musicians appearing on the CD were Leo Valvassori, Rick Lazar, Gord Myers, Doug Romanow, Jackie Richardson, Liz Tilden and Louise Pickett, et al. Well done, folks!

Note: Samples of this excellent CD can be heard at .

Diane Wells


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