Toronto, Ontario, Canada
June 1998
Blues Money review

"Debut" Blues Money CD from master harpist and songwriter Michael Pickett is just the ticket for the world-weary.

In a World Gone Crazy , the authentic songs, vocals, and music of Michael Pickett may be just the ticket to "get out of here" for a while.  Or maybe it's just the kind of tonic we need to keep us hanging in with something like hope in our hearts.  Songs this alive and sensitive may convince you that love can make it worth keepin' on keepin' on.

Those who know Pickett personally know that he can come across as aloof, even a little crusty or abrasive at times, and has a strong streak of cynicism in him.  That aspect of his nature certainly comes through on tunes like World Gone Crazy and Blues Money but there's also another side to Pickett (isn't that usually the case with people's personas?) that is very different from what casual acquaintances might observe.  His sensitive, loving, even passionate side comes through in a real gem of a song.  The Sweetest Sound , a tender, powerful yet simple ballad that could be covered by any of the great singers of today or yesterday and be a monstor hit.

That's not to say there's anything at all wrong with Pickett's own rough-hewn but very authentic voice either - he's starting, vocally to resemble Danny Brooks a little with a touch of grizzle and air in his voice.  On The Sweetest Sound that really works to give the song part of its poignant appeal - you get the sense this song could be sung by any ordinary guy about his own extraordinary ordinary love, and this universality is what makes it a candidate for classic status.

There's not a disappointment among the entire 12 tracks of this disc of Pickett originals, though I lean towards the slower, more moody tunes.  In addition to The Sweetest Sound I'm really drawn to both Call Your Name and I Won't Be Your Fool (the latter co-written with Richard Bell).  These are Pickett at his most soulful and touching and are extraordinary both vocally and musically.

There are also several more uptempo bluesy/R&B/jazzy tunes on this album that also have lots of legs and get-up-and-go, including Trouble , Work So Hard and the first track, World Gone Crazy .  It's interesting to note the thematic similarity between this opening track and the closer, My Mind's Made Up , in which Pickett seems to be saying that while he's not wearing any rose-coloured glasses, he's also not going to let the craziness and unfairness of the world and life  preoccupy him.  Love, he's saying, makes up for all the bullshit and it's to that we should direct our mental/emotional energy.  I couldn't agree more, and what a wonderful statement of this philosophy this album is.

It's definitely been worth the long wait it's taken for this material to emerge.  Pickett, of course, has been an acknowledged master of the harmonica on the Toronto and larger scene for nearly 30 years and is also regarded as one of the seminal members of the "Toronto blues sound" defined by such groups as Whiskey Howl and Wooden Teeth, both of which he was a member.

Over a long career that's included extensive recording, radio, TV, film and commercial work, he's played with everyone from Taj Mahal to Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker at venues ranging from Massey Hall to New York's Village Gate and jazz festivals.  In addition to performing on two albums of Grossman's Live and releasing two with Whiskey Howl, he's also backed up Bo Diddley, Frozen Ghost, Rita Coolidge, Bobby Wiseman and Rita Chiarelli on their releases.  But over these years, there's never been a Michael Pickett - until now.

On Blues Money Pickett employes an all-star cast of players, including Teddy Leonard, Neil Chapman, Slavka Kobrin, Michael Francis, and Colin Linden (all on guitar in various combinations on various songs), bassists Steve Chadwick, Leo Valvassori and Malcolm McCuaig; drummers Marty Cordrey, Dale-Anne Brendon and Shawn Eisenberg; Doug Riley (2 songs), Richard Bell and Doug Romanow on keys; Romanow also on accordion; saxist John Johnson, Gord Myers on trombone; Rob Greenway on percussion; and background vocal contributions from Molly Johnson, Louise Pickett, John Pickering, and Tiki Mercury-Clarke.

The production, by Pickett and Romanow, is faultless, following a dangerous but ultimately successful narrow precipice between studio effects/augmentations and a gritty, live feeling sound.  The result is that Pickett sounds like he's in concert, with only the lack of some of his amzing virtuoso extended harmonica solos and tricks that you'll sometimes catch him doing live when the jive is right.

Formal release of the album takes place Thursday, June 4 at Silver Dollar.  Something tells me that now that Pickett's broken the ice with this "debut" CD (sounds ridiculous to talk of "debut" of an accomplished veteran and acknowledged master such as Pickett after all these years, but I suppose that's what it is) there are going to be many more to follow - I know I'll certainly be looking forward to them.  

Gary 17


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