Pickering Pick - Waxwing
Pickering Pick's 2005 self-issued album Waxwing sees Sam in a very introspective and reflective mood. This is probably due to the fact that Sam had experienced a number of personal losses in the months leading up to this album's recording. As such, it is certainly the most poignant and personal of his albums. The almost cathartic manner in which the words and sentiments are expressed mark this album out as one by the artist principally for the artist. It is as if the album was a painful but necessary one to record.
The result is something which is novel to say the least. Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoy miserable music as much as the next person. The post-punks and others of their ilk were able to touch me on a personal level with their sombre and depressing tones. But miserable folk music is another matter. I had never thought of it quite like that, though in retrospect it seems that there is no real reason why I should not have done so. After all, in some ways, the plaintiff singing and quiet strumming and plucking of a single guitar mourning lost love or missed opportunities seems quite a logical combination when you think about it.
It may seem a bit churlish then to offer criticism, but in all honesty, unless you listen deeply and thoughtfully, the overall effect can initially come across as somewhat maudlin. This may be due partly to the production. The voice is very much to the fore, and the solitary acoustic guitar sometimes seems a sparse accompaniment to it. I can hear notes, but somehow do not seem to be able to pick out chords. Yet, oddly, when the guitar is to the fore, as it is on the instrumental title track which, in my view is the best track on the album, the music is at its strongest and most vibrant.
The album opens with the "The Lancet" (which, try as I might, I cannot disassociate from the medical journal of the same name) and is immediately followed by "I Once Was Gold", which sounds startlingly similar to the first track which seems to me to be something of a problem, though the latter song is superior in my view. The next two songs, "The Magus" and "All I Had" were pleasant enough but did not really seemed to stir me. "Time" and "Graduation Day" were much better in my view while the album's closing track, "Waltz" somehow did not seem to deliver the potential it promised early on.
Oddly, the two instrumentals were the two tracks on the album which seem, to me, to stand out. Apart from anything else, it is on these tracks that I can see why some people compare Sam to Nick Drake, especially on Drake's later work. I tend not to share that comparison, not because I don't think it is justified or complimentary (it is both), but because I feel Sam is an artist deserving of a reputation in his own right and not necessarily to be compared with another.
Of course, as with all Pickering Pick songs, the strength is the lyrical quality. It is something which cannot be overstated when it comes to Pickering Pick's music. This is music direct from the heart, from an artist whose command of the flow and rhythm of the English language is matched and indeed surpassed by his ability to form that language into imagery as vivid as if it were a physical image. Any criticism of the album needs to be tempered with the consistently high quality of the lyrics. For it is the lyrics which enable me to continue to want to listen to this album.
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