Real Blues   SPOTLITE
Vancouver, BC, Canada
June/July 1998
Blues Money review

I can't tell you how happy I was to see this debut CD by Mr. "Whiskey Howl" Pickett.  Michael and I go back a long time with my first exposure to Toronto's top harmonica ace taking place in 1971 or '72 when his legendary T.O. blues Band, WHISKEY HOWL, played every club and hall from London (Ont.) to Oshawa and became the third member of Ontario's great blues triple threat along with King Biscuit Boy and the Walsh Brothers' DOWNCHILD BLUES BAND.

With vocalist John Witmer (now of Vancouver's Bel Airs), and Pickett fronting them, WHISKEY HOWL was a real good-time powerhouse remembered fondly by all who heard and danced to them.  WHISKEY HOWL broke up and split up and reformed a few times, the latest time I believe being the early 1980's.  Pickett was head and shoulders above the legion of harp-blowers out there, displaying uncanny power, taste and technique.  Richard Newell a.k.a. King Biscuit Boy, Canada's "blues king" has always cited Michael as being his favourite Canadian harpman, and Michael's impressed the hell out of a bevy of U.S. bluesmen/women over the years.

While he's been on several albums/CDs this is Michael's very first solo outing and it's been well worth the wait.  Not only is he an exceptionally hot harp-player, but his vocals are surprisingly strong and self-assured.  (I always liked Michael's voice, but he was very reluctant to sing back in the "old days".  I guess if I was sharing a band with "The Voice" Witmer, I'd be reluctant too!), and the material is top-notch originals.  Blues Money is a unique gem featuring a great drum beat, while World Gone Crazy is a tough statement on the plight of this planet.  Shake is a funky workout with tons of potential (a dance-floor filler).  The calibre of musicianship is stellar throughout with many of Toronto's finest assembled for these sessions, and special kudos go to Teddy Leonard (Canada's funkiest guitarist), Dale-Anne-Brendon (drums), Doug Riley (piano), and my favourite trombonist, Gord Myers.

1988 is a killer tune that'll have you throwing your chair to the floor and heading straight to the dance-floor (video pick) with Doug Riley's rollicking boogie piano propelling this fun song, while All Of These Blues is a super blues harp showcase for Pickett with a great guitar courtesy of Neil Chapman.

I wasn't aware Michael was such a fantastic songwriter and I'm somewhat in awe after hearing all twelve smoking originals.  With all the killer releases we've had from Canadian artists in the last year or so, there is no damn way that U.S. blues artists can assume they are superior anymore.  We've caught up and surpassed them in many cases, and this disc stacks up against the very best of blues from south of the border.  U.S. labels had better start paying attention to Canuck talent like Michael Pickett.

If I had to pick a Canadian Talent of the Year/CD of the Year right now, it would be a next-to-impossible task but Michael Pickett would be right there at the top.  Production quality is excellent as is the sound and the production tandem of Pickett and Doug Romanow have much to be proud of.  Michael Pickett may have waited thirty years to give us a CD under his own name, but it was well worth the wait.

Wooden Teeth Records scores large with their first release.  Blues Money is quite simply one of the very best blues CDs to ever come out of Canada; a mandatory purchase for every blues fan in this country and for any blues fan in the world who wants a sample of just how great blues music in Canada has become.  5 big bottles for an exceptionally original, unique and talent-heavy offering from a truly gifted artist.  It couldn't have happened to a nicer, more deserving guy.

Congratulations Michael! 

Andy Grigg


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