Reviews

Real Blues  SPOTLITE
Vancouver, BC, Canada
March 2001
Conversation With The Blues review

Some artists can be, shall we say, enigmatic. Just when you least expect it their creative dam "bursts" forth and years of pent up creativeity in all its glory bursts forth, astonishing even their closest supporters and fans. Michael Pickett was for many years just content to keep his mouth shut (singing-wise) and blow first-rate Sonny Boy-style harp in many great Toronto area bands since the late 1960s ( Whiskey Howl being the most popular) doing his supporting role thing.  Some of us had a few clues that Michael was the epitome of the old saying, "still waters run deep" and wondered when, if ever, he'd cut loose and do his thing.  I remember hearing him sing a tune at the end of a set during the Whiskey Howl Reunion show (1982?) at The El Mocambo on Spadina Ave. ...what a great blues venue...  and being amazed at his vocal abilities - so soulful and funky - and when I approached him to convey my astonishment he humbly replied, "I don't really sing... John's (Witmer) got the pipes" or something similar.  But that taste of his talent always stuck in the back of my mind and when he came out with his long-anticipated CD masterpiece Blues Money two years ago, I was surprised somewhat, but not as much as other Canadian blues fans.  Debut CDs are tough to follow when they are masterpieces and Pickett's Blues Money set a standard that would be next to impossible to match or surpass. Well, Michael my man, you did it and I must say I'm more than impressed by the truly magnificent performances contained on this instant Hall of Fame disc. To have a real killer CD, one must have a clear concept and focus as to what they wish to achieve and how they'd like to have the finished product sound.

Pickett's growth as a songwriter/ arranger/producer is something that jumps right out at you, never mind his stunning harp work throughout (the best Canadian-bred harmonica king on the scene today) and his passion-filled vocals.  Each tune is a gem and the all-star backing shines once again. Steve Chadwick is one of the best 'bottoms' on Fender bass in Canada (a Larry Taylor sound-alike) and Doug Riley proves again to be a genius on piano and Bill McCauley on Hammond (B3) organ proves to be a soulful and funky contributor of mucho gusto keyboards.  I find it virtually impossible to review this CD with any restraint or composure on my part, kind of like the wine taster who downs the whole bottle of his favourite dessert wine.  Each time I put this disc on I lose my cool totally. After thirty plus years of blues listening and critiquing, I prided myself on my hard-learned cynicism and one does get tired, weary and somewhat burned-out when dealing with too much of a good thing (sometimes bad things) and then comes Conversation With The Blues a totally rejuvenating and invigorating blessed collection of joyous and totally honest and authentic heart-felt blues. Whew! twelve mini-masterpieces that easily match all of the genius level gems of his first CD: a feat that is somewhat astounding considering the power  of the music contained in his debut album.  I defy anyone anywhere in the world to not be amazed and moved by the talent, creativity, superb production and feeling contained in this recording.  It is simply the best new blues CD of the last year or two and I don't mean just Canadian, I'm talking about the overall picture folks... Europe, Canada, U.S., Australia...  Conversation With The Blues is the best of them all out of four to five hundred I've listened to. There I've said it. Canada finally has the best damn blues albun of the year... thanks Mike!  You've kicked the door open wide and right from the opening track, Big Train the glorious tribute to Canadian blues talent (how prophetic!), blues fans everwhere will be grabbed by the ears and shaken up and down.  With Mr. Pickett and Carson Downey leading the way and others waiting in the wings like Shawn Kellerman (check out his astounding guitar work on this CD especially his blistering solo on Big Train ), Ray Bonneville, John Campbelljohn, The Boppin' Blues Band, Johnny V and a dozen more world-class talents.  Canadian blues artists have now finally totally  broken away from the "not-as-good/legitimate-as-American" identity.

Forgive me for getting ahead of myself - for those readers unfamiliar with Michael Pickett's history/background let me give you a quick rundown. Pickett has been a familiar figure on the Toronto blues scene for thirty plus years, most of it as just a great Sonny Boy II -styled harp blower, co-fronting such bands as Whiskey Howl and Wooden Teeth and while his harmonica playing has always been regarded a peerless, virtually everyone, friends and fans alike, were caught off guard by the magnitude of his genius and abilities which all came out on '98's disc Blues Money , an award winning disc that set new standards for Canadian Blues artists.  Song composition is really what sets Pickett apart from all of his peers and competition. You will not hear twelve tunes of this calibre on any other blues CD and his vocals are distinctive and strong.  For fans of blues harmonica, let's just say that Michael will blow his face off and make you forget all about any other harp players. Each and every song has an individual identity... Look Out At The Weather is a personal favourite of mine as is the gospel-tinged title track and the joyous It Don't Matter To Me really swings. One of these days I will have to ask Michael Pickett what exactly happened to him to get music of this level to come gushing forth from him. Vitamins, viagra, group therapy, monkey glands, a new mojo, a personal trainer, kidnapped by aliens?  No matter.  It's all here and it's a glorious collection of songs from a man who has been there from the beginning of the blues scene.  

Six big bottles for a CD that every blues lover the world over should have in his/her collection; it can't get any better....  or can it?

Andy Grigg

 

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