The Pickers are a blast, most of the time

by James Brotheridge


cd-pickersThe Slim City Pickers
3.5 out of 5

For a brief moment, The Slim City Pickers, the debut album by the Regina band of the same name, sounds like it might slow down. Near the middle of the album, “Little Fish” comes in with a pair of acoustic guitars on their own. Are things about to mellow out? Nope! The song quickly lights into big electrics and laid-back rock.

The 10 tracks here are true to the group’s live show in that way. Any time the Pickers show up, it’s an alt-country party, a roots-rock imperative to get down and drink and have fun. The group is full of able players, and pedal steel, electric and acoustic guitars combine for great, memorable moments. If they decided to be an instrumental band for a stretch, it wouldn’t be a shock — they’d still hold my interest (in fact, they’ve even got a pair of instrumental songs on the album).

They’re stylistically diverse in their playing, touching on music from across the roots spectrum and throughout the years. But they’re held together by what sounds like a rock-solid chemistry within the band. Every moment is filled with interest –– interesting playing, interesting country songwriting, interest in where the record’s going next.

I’ll quibble with some of the lyrics. You can’t be shocked by country guys falling into country tropes. As the Mooney Suzuki once sang, “In a young man’s mind, it’s a simple world. There’s a little room for music, and the rest is girls.” And that band doggedly followed that lifestyle themselves. But it doesn’t work out 100 per cent of the time for the Pickers. Some of the “pining for women” tracks feel tired. A track like “No Good Woman” aims for empathy, but lands too close to the kind of misogynistic “friend zone” complaints some men make about women who don’t want to date them.

The Pickers have some songwriting spark and undeniable talent with their instruments. Sort out the rest and they should be a great act.

cd-wildernessThe Wilderness of Manitoba
Between Colours
Pheromone Recordings
3 out of 5

Sometimes, as you wake from troubled sleep in a different city or pass by a doorway down an unfamiliar street, you hear a strain of music that seems completely familiar but impossible to place. You don’t know if it’s something you heard in the crepuscular depths of childhood or maybe just last week. But most importantly, you have no idea if it’s your parents’ folk music or Blue Öyster Cult. So it is with the Wilderness of Manitoba’s new album Between Colours, which is sort of between styles (maybe it’s between colours as well? Synaesthesiacs please let me know). TWOM feels most at ease on tracks like “Leave Someone” and “Through Blue Light”, with gorgeous harmonies and a distinct late-’70s AM radio vibe. Chase this album with a bit of Fleetwood Mac for the complete experience. /Aidan Morgan

cd-burtonSpencer Burton
Don’t Let the World See Your Love
Dine Alone
4 out of 5

Several years ago I was in a Toronto music store when Spencer Burton, an ex-member of rock group Attack in Black, sauntered in and began to play in front of a dozen human audience members and one dog. Despite the turnout, Burton churned out a magical set rooted in an endless well of charisma, with irreverent storytelling and impromptu canine scoldings.

Don’t Let the World See Your Love is Burton at his finest, somber folk-country tugging incessantly at heartstrings coupled with top-shelf scotch-soaked vocals. But the songs don’t live up to the offbeat humour and hurt of his live show. Granted, it comes close, but with Burton already several albums into his solo career, I wonder if such a thing is even possible. At times sad and mournful, the album is nevertheless a near-perfect collections of songs for lovers of all things dusty and downtrodden. /Chris Morin

cd-blackthunderBlack Thunder
Coffee And Bronuts
3.5 out of 5

Black Thunder’s three members don’t add many studio frills to Coffee and Bronuts, their new two-song seven inch. There’s a bit of simple organ work towards the end of the first track, “Suck Brick Kid”, and that’s largely it. You get the feeling co-lead vocalists Tony Frank and Neil Lutz, along with bassist Dustin Wiebe, understand that in a good rock trio where everyone’s bringing their best stuff, you don’t need much more.

They show that all over “Suck Brick Kid” and the title track. They work with adventurous song structures with ease, keeping the songs as riff-heavy as the best of stoner rock while bringing progressive influences that don’t feel out of place in the least. Paired with great playing and complementary-but-distinct vocal styles from Frank and Lutz, Coffee and Bronuts captures a great band at a good moment. /James Brotheridge