Pickering Pick - Tiger Balm
I have followed the career of British exile Sam Pickering Pick for some time now. I confess to having found the concept of an Englishman singing English influenced folk music while living in California something with the potential for a creating a unique mix. In most of Sam's earlier, self-released albums, he has stuck to the formula of one man and his guitar, with the addition of occasional added instrumentation, the sole exception being Mission Hill where Sam experimented with a full backing band and a sound which brought with it influences of the West Coast of the USA.
However, with Tiger Balm, Sam has finally taken the plunge and signed to a record deal with Canadian folk label, Yer Bird records. As if to celebrate, Sam has produced some of his finest work in a long time. Stripped back to the bare sound of a voice and accompanying instrument (mostly acoustic guitar), this musical style truly brings out the best in Sam's music.
The most noticeable feature of any Pickering Pick song is the quality of the lyrics. In the past there have been some truly notable songs, "Egypt" perhaps being the stand out example. And it is gratifying to see that this continues on Tiger Balm. The songs are written from the heart, covering subjects as diverse as faith, pining for things lost and the discovery of the joys of life in humanity. Listen closely to the words for it is certain that within them you will find something which resonates with your own experiences. These ten songs comprise some of the most intensely moving ballads you have heard in a long time.
The strength of the lyrics is accentuated by Sam's voice. It is hard to describe without doing it an injustice and adjectives such as gentle, wistful, introspective and fragile initially spring to mind. Yet none of those epithets manage to convey with any adequacy the combination of a crystal clear voice, still retaining a slight English accent in its delivery. This is music which will bring reminiscences of an English summer evening, or a rainy Sunday in April, without ever bringing about a sense that this is music solely for a time or a place. The sentiments are universal.
The album's finest track is probably the opener, "Your Sleeping Dog" (though I find that I can dispute that with myself when the mood takes me), a bright and carefree song. It is just one of the moods this album brings with it. Take, for example, "Girl from Bilbao" and compare that chance encounter with a stranger with others who have tried to capture the moment and somehow come up short. On two tracks - "I Didn't Know Your Rivers Flowed" and "In the End" - the instrumentation shifts from an accompanying acoustic guitar to a piano. The former is the most successful, a ballad combining the themes of love, loss and faith all in one, a song which could equally well be a hymn as a love song. The second is a fine way to end an album, a powerful lyric in a musical framework which, despite its spare arrangement, conveys a power all its own along with it.
Listening to Tiger Balm is one of those experiences which can evoke a wide range of emotions in you. And, after all, isn't that what music should truly be about? Music can mean many things to different people, but whatever your musical inclination you will find something in here which reaches out to, takes hold of one of your heartstrings and pulls it gently. Each song has the power to connect me with a memory of my own. It has been said of many an artist that their songs reach out to the listener making the song feel as if it were written for each listener personally. Rarely do I experience such a feeling, but when I do I subconsciously establish a link with that music and take that link with me wherever I go. Some of the songs on Tiger Balm, as with some of Pickering Pick's previous work, have had just that effect.
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