Blues Revue
Illinois, USA
December 2000
Conversation With The Blues review

Michael Pickett has won Canada's prestigious Maple Blues 'Blues With A Feeling' and ' Harmonica Player of the Year' awards.  His popularity stems from his tireless dedication to honing his craft, and Conversation With The Blues is his ultimate payback.  It's a strong, sturdy release that teases a litany of influences as it hints at the robust live presentation that's earned him his stripes.

Yet the release is more than a demonstration of his harp skills.  His seasoned songwriting (10 of the 12 songs are Pickett originals) takes center stage, as do his emotive, distinctive vocals.  He wears his heart on his sleeve, and his powerful delivery is as joyous as it is infectious.  If the project sounds like a labor of love, it's because it's supported by a who's who of Toronto blues players in addition to Pickett's hardworking full-time band.  The opening track goes a long way toward setting the pace... think energetic Chicago blues with a healthy shot of soul, shaded with equal parts funk and gospel.  Pickett's conversation covers a broad-ranging blues map, from the traditional sounding, Cecil & Spadina , where he accompanies himself on resophonic guitar, to the big-band punch of  Big Train , complete with a full horn section, backup singers and strings.

Pickett quarterbacks his way to his favorite places, arriving at a diverse collection of cool, confident, satisfying grooves.  Key cuts include the sensational Bad Love , the laid-back Junk Thang , the thunderous Big Train and the sultry, soulful title track.  The sturdy support of team players, including Bill McCauley 's big B3 and the guitar muscle of Shawn Kellerman , Kevin Breit and Fathead's Teddy Leonard , add fuel to Pickett's fire.  His unique vocals recall Dr. John ( The River , Night Comes ), Southside Johnny ( When I Lay My Burden Down ) and Mink DeVille ( Love Don't Mean It ).

The only criticism?  For a man revered for his harp style, there isn't enough of it.  The album's focus is on overall musicianship - which is obvious, as the playing is peerless.  To be fair, Pickett's notion of musicianship veers more toward shared "conversation", toward interplay between players, than toward the solo voice.  This conversation is an intoxicating one.

Eric Thom


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