Toronto, Ontario, Canada
May/June 2000

Conversation With The Blues makes eavesdropping irresistible

They say it's impolite to eavesdrop on others' conversations, but we all know there are times when you just can't help yourself.  Michael Pickett's new CD Conversation With The Blues makes listening in not only tempting, it's downright irresistible.

This masterful 12-track album of originals (10 by Pickett, one stunning rearranged cover of a Chapman/Simpkin classic and a version of Night Comes by Doug Riley and Molly Johnson) engages you from the get go and draws you into the soulful and thoughtful world of a veteran Blues man who must now be acknowledged as one of Canada's premier songwriters.

This album is a magnificent followup to 1998's Juno-nominated (Best Roots/Blues album) debut disc Blues Money .  Its smooth delivery makes it sound like it was recorded live from the floor as indeed at least two tunes here ( Night Comes and Mother Earth ) were.

What this album demonstrates, in addition to Pickett's always faultless harmonica playing and facility with the resophonic guitar (similar to a National steel) is his versatility, as nearly every form of the Blues short of Boogie Woogie is represented here:  Soul, Funk, R&B, acoustic "front porch" Delta, Jazz/Blues and even Gospel.  Remarkably, Pickett sounds totally at home in each of the genres, whether growlishly sighing the poignant lyrics of Cecil and Spadina with bare accompaniement or belting out big band style numbers like Junk Thang or Mother Earth .

What's especially satisfying about Pickett's music here, at least to this reviewer, is that this is grown-up, confident Blues.  Mature stylings, subject matter and exquisitely crafted performances all blend to make each track a shining gem.  There's no wanking here, everyone you hear is there only to enhance the song, not to prove something.

Of course the involvement of producer Doug Romanow (with whom Pickett co-produced the disc, and who plays keys on one track and co-wrote It Don't Matter To Me with Pickett) virtually guarantees a seamless and beautifully listenable recording.

The vast range of highly accomplished veteran accompanying musicians also helps to ensure that this is a professional, artfully crafted sound.  Steve Chadwick appears on bass (with Leo Valvassori on one song); keyboardists Bill McCauley and Doug Riley share alternating B3 and piano duties; Gary Craig is on drums with one-song sit ins by both Marty Cordrey and Paul Brennan ; percussionist Rick Lazar is on four tracks.  There are also special appearances here and there by a roster of astonishingly talented greats.  Backup vocals from Jackie Richardson , Liz Tilden , Troy Adams on three tracks and by Michael's wife Louise Pickett on one; John Johnson on sax; Gord Myers on trombone; Dave Dunlop on trumpet; Shawn Kellerman and Kevin Breit on guitar; Lenny Solomon and Norman Hathaway on violins; Arturs Jansons on viola; Richard Armin on cello; and Cordrey again on doumbek accompanying Pickett's resophonic on the evocative bare-bones Cecil and Spadina .

Gary 17


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