Saturday, May 9, 2009

Charlie Pickett -- Bar Band Americanus: The Best Of Charlie Pickett And

Charlie Pickett -- Bar Band Americanus The Best of Charlie Pickett And (Bloodshot)

Peter Buck of R.E.M. is quoted as saying that Charlie Pickett and his band “were one of the undiscovered giants of the late eighties.” As much as I would hate to disagree with Mr. Buck, if this compilation is Exhibit A in support of the Pickett legend, I hope he has more convincing evidence elsewhere.

When I was in college, Pickett’s reputation floated around, with his various bands, and he was touted as this amazing rock and roller. At least that’s what the press release said that accompanied Route 33, Pickett’s sole release for Twin/Tone. At the time, I found that Pickett purveyed a tough brand of roots rock with a low key sense of humor. But the best I could say about the music was a bit above average, at best.

More than 20 years later, I’m hearing some songs from that album and other sundry recordings on this collection. And my reaction has changed only a bit.

There are some standouts amongst the 18 songs on this collection, but many of the songs are merely okay. I will say that Pickett’s mix of twangy country and more Stones-y blues rock is distinctive. And Pickett has some personality -- he often sings the lines like he’s tossing them off out of the side of his mouth, a cigarette dangling off his lip. He was also one heck of a guitar player.

The best song on this album first appeared on his Twin/Tone album. “A. on Horseback” begins with a circular guitar line that is prominent through the song, and with a chugging rhythm track, this is a great tune for hurtling down the highway. “I wish that I could see/America on horseback” Pickett sings while Jim Duckworth keeps those leads coming. As the song goes on, Pickett adds some nifty slide guitar counterpoint.

Another top track is “All Love All Gone”, a great look at the battle of the sexes which indicates that men are doomed to lose: “She was woman/and I was boy.” Although this song is more mid-tempo, it also centers on the steady rhythm section work, allowing Pickett to rue the busted romance, while Duckworth goes nuts on lead guitar.

Pickett recorded an album with Buck as producer in 1987, and it yielded a magic moment with "On the River in '59". This track has the burning intensity of Neil Young. It's a showcase for Pickett's slide guitar, as he reels off some bluesy runs, and he is uncharacteristically uninhibited vocally, really cutting loose.

This is a contrast to his more usual jokey self, on display on "If This Is Love, Can I Get My Money Back?". Here, he warbles the witty lyrics of a tune originally waxed by his cousin Mark Markham back in 1966: "Baby, I tell you/one thing is true/I'm not getting younger/but neither are you/let's not squander our time." Rev this up a little bit, and I could easily hear Jason and the Scorchers rocking out to this.

The disc concludes with four live tracks that show Pickett in his element, back in 1982, finishing off with a passionate version of The Flamin' Groovies' "Shake Some Action".

While I don't think that Pickett's material was consistently strong, I have a greater appreciation as to his appeal as a performer. No, he wasn't a legend. But he was probably the best performer in town on any given night about 90% of the time. And while this isn't great, his career merited this retrospective.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article you got here. I'd like to read something more concerning this theme. The only thing it would also be great to see here is some pics of some gadgets.
John Stepman
Cell phone jammer

Anonymous said...

Dear Mike:

We always tried.

Plus slouchiness can be intentional.

Thanks for the review, which is really kinder than the start of it implies.

Charlie Pickett

Anonymous said...

I just received my Amazon order of Bar Band Americanus last week. I've been listening and enjoying the hell out of it ever since. With so MUCH vapid pap, utterly unremarkable and emotionaless drek, pretentious (and talentless) grunge (yes, I'm talking about Lord Cobain here, sorry, but he was not a "genius"), and other unremarkable insults to rock and roll over the past 25 years, it was and remains a joy to know that someone, Charlie Pickett, that some few, the guys that played with him, Got It.

Mojo Nixon rightfully shouted it at Don Henley, but it applies equally to 99.9% of all the excrement that's come out of recording studios over the past 20-30 years: "You and your kind are killing rock-and-roll. It ain't because you're o*l*d, it's cause you ain't got no soul!"

In his heyday Charlie Pickett had soul, along with raunchy, chunky, guitar-playing talent, along with imagination and wit and snark in his songwriting. I'd like to believe he still does.