Mick Pini – 55th anniversary album called ‘Backtrack’

REVIEW: MICK PINI – ‘Backtrack’ on Bandcamp, released 1st July 2021

It’s been a long time coming, but after 55 long years of having paid his dues, the reviews and radio plays are coming in thick and fast for Mick Pini’s career defining ‘Backtrack’ compilation album.

He’s struck a perfect balance between his core Chicago Blues influences and the West Coast Jump feel of ‘Jumping Blues’. Then there’s the celebratory big band outing of the outstanding ‘Got It Bad’ and the polar opposite down-home feel of the shimmering ‘Blues Is Cheap’.

The stripped down duet of ‘Snowy Wood’ featuring simply guitar and piano shows his versatility and feel for the blues. But the real revelation here is the Audio 54 produced tracks that push Mick’s music into a new dimension with evocative, noir filled sounds that could have come from the big screen.

Together with fellow Leicester musician and producer Craig Marshall (aka Audio54), Mick Pini has gloriously updated his style with an album that spans blues, jazz and even ambient influences.

With a career spanning some 25 albums and with playing and recording credits including the likes of BB King, Luther Allison, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Luther Allison, Louisiana Red, Doctor Ross, Sherman Robertson, Jimmy Carl Black (Frank Zappa), Roy Estrada (Little Feat), Adrian Byron Burns, Chris Farlow and Mojo Buford there is no better time than the 55th anniversary of his career to issue an updated career compilation.

Other than John Mayall and Miller Anderson, Mick is one of the longest surviving British touring artists. The Leicester born, Germany based blues guitarist is a feel player who Clapton rightly called; “The legitimate successor to Peter Green.”

This is patently clear in his use of tone, sustain and string bends, in a constant search for feel. Indeed his phrasing also recalls Freddie King, Albert Collins and even T-Bone Walker, while his weathered voice drips with emotional nuance and marks him out as special.

Perhaps its the fact that he’s spent the last 24 years in Germany that has kept him hidden from greater public acclaim? Certainly the legendary Mike Vernon saw something special in him when he signed him up to his own label for the 1989 ‘Mick “Wildman” Pini album, which featured Adrian Burns, Chris Youlden and Paul Jones and the title of which was only really relevant to Mick intense playing style.

Vernon came back for more 10 years later for the equally good ‘Blues Gonna Be My Way’. In the interim years Mick toured relentlessly, eventually settling in Germany where his passionate playing led him countless festival appearances and several label deals. His ‘Blues Survivor’ album is perhaps the most aptly titled of his extensive back catalog.

And so to the career defining ‘Backtrack’ compilation. Pini teamed up with producer Craig Marshall’s Audio 54 to work on some ambient tracks and the result was a cross genre success. T he idea was then extended to Mick’s back catalog plus 4 new tracks that update his style intuitively.

‘Backtrack’ is a digital only album at present, but the platform suits Mick’s updated style perfectly, as Marshall emphasizes a tone here, a subtle echo there and frames the tracks with a svelte sheen.

 

The piece de resistance comes with the Audio 54 tracks. ‘Blues for Peter Green’ immerses the listener in a beautiful homage to the man who taught Pini many years ago how to find that ‘Supernatural’ tone, while ‘Wastelands’ is an exercise in the ethereal, in which Pini’s tone finds its place in Marshall’s sonic canvas.

In complete contrast Marshall brings sonic clarity to Pini’s stinging attack on ‘You Know I Can’ which rises above a muscular groove and earthy horn stabs. And talking of grooves, Mick slips into the Latino tinged ‘Into The Distance’, which is another example of his sumptuous tone, while ‘Standing In The Rain’ is a reflective blues full of pain and regret that is perfectly conveyed by Pini’s biting guitar tone.

The finger clicking, horns and muted trumpet of ‘Slow Hands’ could be Miles Davis, before a sultry bass-led groove leads into some of Mick deepest most haunting notes. It’s incredible to realize that this perfect sonic chemistry was actually done remotely. The end result is something special and unique. 

 

There’s so much here to digest from the change of styles to Pini’s tonal array and Marshall clever use of sequencing, which ensures a flow to music that has been compiled over several decades.

Ultimately everything boils down to Mick Pini as a feel musician. There’s not a wasted note on this album, while the sense of emotional honesty is something that producer Marshall hones in on, especially the vocals which constantly draw you into the narrative.

And while Pini hits the heights on the fiery big band outing of ‘You Know I Can’ and the heartfelt ‘Standing In The Rain’ (which could also be Mick Taylor), the sheer emotional weight of his oeuvre is counter-weighted by Marshall’s ethereal sounds.

‘Blues For Peter Green’ would surely have made Pini’s hero smile, while ‘Shadows’ is a noir filled groove fleshed out by haunting piano and Pini’s after hours vocal.

‘Wasteland’ is cut from the same cloth but the opening cello, distant echo and beautiful acoustic from Pini give it filmic quality.

‘Backtrack’ is an album with a difference. It fuses the past with the present and looks to the future to keep you wanting more. Not many blues artists can claim to be groundbreaking 55 years into their career. This album breaks the mold and is worthy of your attention.

Review by Pete Feenstra

 

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