Pickering Pick - Mission Hill
Mission Hill was Sam's second output and is markedly different from all the others. The most obvious difference is that the album comprises a full range of musical instruments, guitar, slide guitar, bass and drums, as opposed to the usual Pickering Pick format of acoustic guitar (plus possibly some other instruments like piccolo accordion). The second difference is that, probably because of the first, the album has a much higher production quality. It sounds as if it has been put together by a professional for professional purposes.
Perhaps because of this, Mission Hill is often overlooked in the Pickering Pick catalogue. Sam himself has told me it is his least favourite and while I can see why, I think that is doing this CD a severe injustice. Perhaps it is just my musical taste - I generally tend to prefer the full band sound rather than the single troubadour - but it is my favourite album of his. It is one which, I think, warrants a longer, more thoughtful examination.
The whole feel of the album is very much rooted in the sort of American style folk-country music of the late twentieth century. Yet closer listening reveals other influences. "Mission Hill", the title track, seems to have one foot in the cool waters of the West Coast; "When I Get Down to Charleston" brings the twang of the American Deep South; and "Emily Still Hangs In My Head" just seems to remind me of the sort of thing you would hear put together by a group of musicians in a quiet country pub in the Thames Valley of a balmy summer evening. My favourite track on the album, "FIM" is the one which stands out as the closes it ever gets to up-tempo rocker. Again, I may be showing my personal musical prejudices, but the song benefits from this sort of treatment.
Whatever you may think of the musical style and interpretation, and this goes for all Pickering Pick material, what stands out is the quality of the lyrics. A great deal of thought has gone into the words and how they contribute to the music. The lyrics are without doubt Sam's greatest strength for each one of them is capable of painting a vivid picture in the mind of the listener, instantly transporting the listener to the position of the lyrical protagonist. It is perhaps for this reason that the strongest songs on the album - indeed in all Pickering Pick material - is when Sam sings in the first person, when the lyrics are about "I". That is when the music is at its deepest and most intense. That is when it is at its most poignant.
In spite of the accolades received for his music it was a while before he embarked on a record deal. At the time I first discovered his music he felt that further promotion of it was not for him. I can appreciate the more important calls on one's time such as family and understand how exposure of his work to on the web had brought a wider audience than perhaps a commercial deal might. I still felt that Sam's work deserved to be heard by more people. I am glad he has modified his opinion, for his work is something which deserves attention.
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