Sunday, 27 May 2007

Mark Pickerel - 'Snake In The Radio' album review

Straight out of the blocks, precisely twelve months after it came out with no buzz whatsoever, GMS directs you towards Seattle legend Mark Pickerel’s latest solo album, Snake In The Radio. GMS doesn’t get tremendously positive in most of its reviews (something to do with being one of them haters who will, one day, fall to the gat). So when we say this is mighty fine, we mean it, man.

Any reference to Pickerel automatically brings up the stellar acts he’s worked with (Screaming Trees, Nirvana, Neko Case) and the relative obscurity of his own work with Truly, the Dark Fantastic and as a solo artist. Maybe his lack of success comes from reluctance to play on his big-name connections, or from his readiness to play the supporting role. With Truly, you could also say the timing was off: their debut, Fast Stories … From Kid Coma, was on a par with anything the Trees or Nirvana put out, but it was also a demanding listen that only got a release as grunge was going off the boil.

Perhaps, also, his stylistic changes make him hard to pigeon-hole and market. Snake in the Radio is a fair distance from the gut-wrenching psychedelic epics of Kid Coma or the dark pop of Feeling You Up. Signed to indie-roots label Bloodshot, Pickerel has reinvented himself as a stateside version of Richard Hawley – another dues-paying session-player whose classic-pop compositions outdo many of his collaborators’ efforts.

There are plenty of points of reference here, but they all reinforce how good Pickerel is. ‘Graffiti Girl’ pulls off the sinister Lee Hazelwood pop that Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell struggled to appropriate on last year’s Ballad of the Broken Seas. ‘I’ll Wait’ revives the teary-eyed country soul that Lambchop have been too complacent or contrary to manage since Nixon. ‘You’ll Be Mine’, with its surf guitar and air of danger, should have been on the Death Proof soundtrack. ‘Ask the Wind’ does the ol’ blue collar Green on Red / Replacements schtick with more verve than a bevy of Stetson-wearing Pitchfork darlings. ‘Come Home Blues’ and ‘Sin Tax Dance’ deliver on the suave-pop formula that Hawley-progenitors Echo and the Bunnymen toyed with in the late 90s before becoming to curmudgeonly and irrelevant to make it play. The title track even recalls the unsettling Scott Walker-ish atmospherics of Hawley’s one-time paymasters, Pulp, circa Separations.

Whether any of this will make a bit of difference is hard to know. In all likelihood, Pickerel will continue to do very well out of his record store, his session gigs, and his occasional, quiet releases. But the lack of press for this record is something of a Galactic Mystery.

Mark Pickerel - 'Forest Fire'

Mark Pickerel - 'I'll Wait'

Mark Pickerel - 'Snake In The Radio'

More fun:

Mark Pickerel’s homepage

Bloodshot records

Buy Snake in the Radio

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