Chris Pickering’s Music is a Work of Seamless Art
by Terry Roland
There’s something of an irresistible déjà vu that happens when, you first listen to Chris Pickering’s latest and finest album to date, Work of Fiction. The Australian singer-songwriter and Nashville resident, who has yet to turn 30, calls to mind McCartney’s melodic side of The Beatles and latter day adventurous bands like Oasis, but it’s not that he calls to mind an earlier era in a way that invites nostalgia. It’s quite the opposite. He brings the craft of song and record together in an immediate way that used to be common place when the artist dominated the direction of their music in the studio. For such a musically complex work, it’s remarkable Chris was able to forge such a simple and clear and straight forward sound.
On the first listen the album is filled with appealing pop-focused love songs and upbeat tales of personal triumph over tragedy as well as lyrically incisive observations of everyday life. But with careful listening, Chris and Memphis producer, Don Nix, have seamlessly woven a variety of genres, styles and influences. But, it’s hard to pick them out, each of the 10 tracks work well as original works of their own without any sense of imitation. It’s as though he’s discovered his own personal pop-genre hybrid that may incorporate melodic rock, psychedelic music, gospel, soul, country, folk and blues. The songs may contain more than one of these influences overlaid onto the other, wrapped inside a dominate theme. Although he carries that sweet Beatle influence in the music, his arrangements draw on the kind of work Brian Wilson was doing in the mid-60 when he created Pet Sounds blending genres in a similar fashion. As Southern California bass playing legend, Chad Watson has said ‘It’s like Michael Franks meets Rubber Soul.” And he’s onto something. But, sometimes buried beneath the harmonies you may hear something jazz or blues rise up and then recede into the arrangement with barely a nod.
On Work of Fiction, Chris demonstrates the ability to make you dance as the meaning of his lyrics sink in on songs like“Hasta Luego,” and the title track, “Work of Fiction,” His songwriting tells stories that are worthy of the best country music on “Fisherman’s Daughter,” and “Sweet Emilia.” Then, he deftly brings us into his own version of blues with “I Just Want to Love.” The stand out track, his “Good Vibrations,” if you will, is “Absolutely Miss Lucy.” This song is driven by opening jangly guitars and romantic lyrics of waking up to a new love, that then changes into a driving rocking hook and then a jazz piano instrumental comes through as vocal harmonies flow in and provide a sonic quilt. It’s a simple pop song adorned expertly in the studio with just enough production work to give it the power it needs to engage the listener.
The talent, craft and ingenuity at work on this album is not surprising considering Chris Pickering’s background. After graduating with a degree in music, Chris began his career as a drummer for the popular alt-rock Australian band, Boat People. After leaving the band in 2004, his solo career has included the EP Hard to Find followed by his debut, A Safer Place in 2005. This was followed by a 2006 EP release, Ghost City.
His career became international in 2008 when Chris was chosen to appear at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. This led to his move to Nashville, where he released 2010’s Work of Fiction, which was recorded in Memphis.
As he continues with his career, he works off of his own vision of song craft and studio recordings that manages to spark the imagination, stir the soul in ways unexpected. This is no less evident than on Work of Fiction.
This week gives the southland a chance to hear Chris in an intimate setting as he shares the bill with Louisiana singer-songwriter, Rod Melancon at Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena, California. The event will be streamed live for video on Sunday April 15 at 3:00 PM by Musiqbox. For more information go to his website and/or The Coffee Gallery Backstage.