Album of the Week, February 1: Euphonium by the Picketts

PickettsEuphoniumSinger Christy McWilson grew up in northern California, absorbing the variety of country-tinged musical approaches of the area. She met Scott McCaughey in college in San Francisco; they married and moved to Seattle, becoming fixtures of the alternative music scene growing there in the 80s. They formed the retro-roots pop band the Dynette Set. McCaughey drifted into the Young Fresh Fellows, and McWilson joined forces with stand-up drummer Leroy “Blackie” Sleep to create a new band. Drawing inspiration from the eclectic soul power of Wilson Pickett (and the loose connection of his name with McWilson’s) the pair formed the Picketts, adding guitarists John Olufs and Jim Sangster and bassist Walt Singleman. The Seattle sound was mostly split between smart pop like the Young Fresh Fellows and the burgeoning grunge sound. Dubbing themselves “Grange Rock,” the Picketts got pigeonholed as alt-country but drew as much inspiration from rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson as Gram Parsons. Noted for their great live shows and unexpected covers, the band released Paper Doll on PopLlama in 1992, followed by the Rounder release The Wicked Picketts. That solid outing got the notice of roots rocker  Steve Berlin, who produced the band’s third — and strongest — disc.

Title Euphonium
Act The Picketts
Label Rounder Release Date 1996
Producer Steve Berlin
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Good, Good Wife
  2. Action Speaks Louder Than Words
  3. Just Passin’ Through
  4. Baba O’Riley
  5. Night Fell
  6. House Made From Cards
  7. Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
  8. Seven
  9. Overworked, Overloaded, Underpaid
  10. I Can’t Close My Eyes
  11. Same Town, Same Planet (Different World)

Things open with a charming statement of purpose, Good Good Wife. McWilson shows off her vocal power, surging through a series of musical tropes that she regularly upends. With a sawing fiddle line and energetic rockabilly base, it’s a perfect welcome to the Picketts’ party. Action Speaks Louder Than Words shows off the vocal dynamics of McWilson and Sleep, a strong pair that complement each other well. It’s a rollicking apology, unexpectedly turning the title phrase back on the singers.

The Picketts were a tight unit that really knew how to swing. Just Passin’ Through showcases that energy nicely and allows McWilson to demonstrate the versatility of her voice. It’s a pretty, sad song that most clearly demonstrates the band’s country inclinations. Their sly wit shows up next, with a wonderful cover of the Who’s Baba O’Riley. It seems like an odd fit, but the slow, swinging delivery works extremely well, showing off a sort of Grass Roots / Young Rascals musical inclination while respecting the power of the original.

McWilson shows off her pipes again with Night Fell, a surging rockabilly blues. Sad but hopeful, it’s a quiet showcase for the quintet. House Made From Cards is another slower number, a lovely, aching ballad. The band breathe new life into the standard trope, with McWilson providing a lovely liquid vocal.

The band pick up the pace again with a standard element of their live shows. Should I Stay Or Should I Go? works perfectly as a rockabilly number, proving the diverse influences of the Clash and the musical smarts of the Picketts in one glorious package. Sleep takes the lead on the swaggering Seven, a fun number that adds a bit of grit to the mix.

Overworked Overloaded Underpaid is a clever blending of material workaday concerns with romantic frustration. The metaphor is charming, with McWilson delivering a wonderful I-have-enough-trouble-without-you vocal. I Can’t Close My Eyes is the showstopper, a gorgeously sad ballad that blends McWilson’s and Sleep’s vocals powerfully. That lovely song fades out and the band kicks back into high gear, offering a closing that feels like a great encore. Same Town Same Planet (Different World) is a witty depiction of the way two people can share an existence without sharing their lives. It’s a great, energetic romp that wraps up the proceedings with a sense of smart fun.

FURTHER LISTENING: Sadly, the Picketts only released three albums. Paper Doll is a decent showcase; The Wicked Picketts is nearly as good as Euphonium — and features a great Yoko Ono cover. McWilson has also released two solo albums, the lovely The Lucky One and the serviceable Bed of Roses.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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