Mick Pini looks forward on Backtrack

Mick Pini looks forward on Backtrack

Mick Pini looks forward on Backtrack a wonderful album revealing, a genius of the blues guitar with such feel and ability that should elevate him to the status he deserves.

How the hell have I not come across Mick Pini and his unique guitar ‘attack’ before? When a guitarist gets such plaudits as ‘The legitimate successor to Peter Green’ by Eric Clapton no less; when he has toured Europe with the likes of BB King, Luther Allison, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Luther Allison, Sherman Robertson and recorded with Jimmy Carl Black (Frank Zappa), Roy Estrada (Little Feat)  and Adrian (Ah! Koo Stik!) Byron Burns, I should have!

So if, like me, your blues radar has suffered a blip(!) then let me introduce the newest recruit into my guitarist of merit list…Mick, or Michele Giovanni Ferrari Pini to use his full name, is the son of Italian immigrants who came to England in the 1940s. Born and raised in Leicester, he started playing the guitar when he was nine years old and formed his first band at the age of 15. He’s also played with Baby (the band) in the Cavern Club in Liverpool, where his name can be seen, along with many others, in the brickwork. It is obvious he has some skills and reputation, despite my ignorance, as his early work was produced by the blues touchstone that is Mike Vernon. I will blame the fact that he moved to Germany with his wife and bairns (that’s Geordie for children) in ’97 although that sounds more of an excuse even to me.

The good news is that to mark his fifty-plus years in the business, his latest release, Backtrack, has been steered by the font of all knowledge in the blues/blues rock sphere, Mr Pete Feenstra, the promoter, journalist, broadcaster and all-round good bloke. He encouraged Mick to pick his favourite tracks from his twenty-five releases, most of which Mick wrote or co-wrote too. Despite the years that may separate them, they all have that ageless, seamless feel that means it is an album of blues that could have been written yesterday or yesteryear but will always be fresh and original.

The album opens with the descriptively titled Jumping Blues, for that is exactly what it is. It also has some great piano, vocals that some would describe as ‘lived in’ but suit this genre perfectly and we get the first taste of an instinctive guitarist that knows space can say as much as any number of notes backed with a big band sound. I will say that, if I had been assembling the running order, I would have put this midway and opened instead with the absolutely fantastic, warm, crafted and delightful instrumental called Blues For Peter Green. Clapton hit the nail on the head…just close your eyes and listen to the tone Mick gets from his guitar and how, without trying to be a Green clone, he captures the essence of one of the finest blues guitarists to walk this planet. Every note is Mick but has an echo of Peter behind them: the only other guitarist that has come this close is Bernie Marsden on his Green And Blues album which, incidentally, also has a song called Snowy Wood that is a John Mayall/Mick Taylor composition although, like Mick’s song of the same name, both will blow you away and this one is just piano and guitar backing each other brilliantly. The laid back, the expressive and delicious guitar is a bit low in the mix but still shouts quality.

Shadows comes next and with the horns, the piano, the whispered vocals and supportive, clever guitar phrasing, it is well titled as the glorious upright bass takes us down a mysterious path cloaked in darkness. The drum machine sounding drums are an irritant at times but listen to the guitar and piano runs and you’ll soon forget that. Blues Is Cheap will put a smile on your face, a tap in your toe, as you glory in slide guitar par excellence…the basic riff is very Robert Johnson (a bit Stones In My Passway in structure) but that is a compliment and makes for a great, proper blues song: then the bridge is more staccato and heralds the slide all reverb and echo and full of deliciousness, albeit way, way too short.

You Know I Can moves and proves that Mick can do horny funk very well too: a genius bass line is layered by judicious horns and stabbing guitar phrases peppered throughout the verses make this an object lesson in funky blues: the guitar solo edges toward rock with its runs and bends and is brilliant. After the catchy drum led bridge we get some nice barred chords, bass, Hammond and horns working together before (hurrah) another rocky, bluesy solo that finishes somewhat abruptly and should have lasted another hour!

The next track, Into The Distance, moves back into Green hued, slow blues of sheer quality; another instrumental that somehow blends Green with the odd Carlos Santana flourish and it is captivating. Standing In The Rain brings horn interplay back to the stage and this mid-paced song has a timeless sound as the new but familiar structure gives room for a great vocal and lyric with plenty of guitar interjections to keep even me happy and brings Mr Marsden to mind again as they both share that enviable ability to make each note say something meaningful.

So far, we haven’t touched on the influence of jazz in the blues; well, with Slow Hands, that is corrected with some panache. The smoky lunge is there with coned trumpet, deep bass but, above all, a guitar tone and feel that is suitably languid and still has bite…listen to the subtle use of the volume control as well as the runs, bends and sustain. Got It Bad is a delight: traditional but heartfelt lyrics with each line interpreted by some stinging and/or subtle guitar runs that are as soaked in emotion as the lost love lyrics. The piano solo is a suitable and skilful accompaniment to the song too.

One Glass Of Water is another familiarly fresh blues song that, with such sensitive backing from the keys, bass and drums, allows his vocal and lyrical guitar to tell the story so well and is another testament to the Green crown Clapton says is his…no argument here, the solo is packed with such clever nuances as he travels the neck and personifies the blues. The final track, Wasteland, starts with bowed bass and violins that introduce the first starring role for some stunning acoustic guitar…yes, dammit, he does that brilliantly too. A Spanish tinge helps to build this instrumental into an emotive and breathtaking soundscape that would grace any soundtrack, be it Spaghetti or documentary.

This album is a revelation of discovery and a cause of wallet damage as I seek his previous releases because I want to hear more of this talented player. The good news is that a little birdie (well, Mr Feenstra actually) that he is soon to release new material with solo and collaborations promised…can’t wait.

As a footnote, there are many times while listening to this I am reminded of a Georgian neurosurgeon (yes, really) who is also a nuanced and melodic guitar player of quality and uses his vocals in a similar blues-drenched way…maybe the fabulous Dr Ika has heard of Mick and shares the same creative well?

Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful album revealing, at last, a genius of the blues guitar with such feel and ability that should elevate him to the status he deserves.

Mick Pini looks forward on Backtrack

Track listing:
Jumping Blues
Blues For Peter Green
Blues Is Cheap
You Know I Can
Into The Distance
Standing In The Rain
Slow Hands
Got It Bad
Snowy Wood
One Glass Of Water

Backtrack was released July 1, 2021

All tracks written by Mick Pini, except Track 1 written by Uwe Jedinsky & Al Sansome, Tracks 3 & 8 written by Craig Marshall and Mick Pini, Track 4 written by Mick Pini & Al Sansome.

The tracks have been remixed, remastered and produced by Mick’s friend and collaborator, Craig Marshall (Audio54).
No details of the other musicians were available but rest assured, they did a good job.

(iTunes decided to take me back to 1956 with Mickey Baker’s rollicking guitar-led blues: No Good Lover…lovely!)

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