It’s hard to think of a more radical and welcome change than the one Pickwick made about two and a half years ago. At the time, the group was a fairly mediocre indie folk band in an oversaturated Seattle scene. And the guys in Pickwick knew it. Rather than give up, they stepped back, reevaluated their strengths, and reinvented Pickwick as a soul act. Since then they’ve been wowing audiences around Seattle with killer live sets, and building a substantial fan base despite only having released a few 7-inch records. This month Pickwick finally delivered Can’t Talk Medicine, a debut LP that was worth the wait.
Pickwick’s sound centers around Galen Disston’s dynamite vocals. Simply put, he’s the best singer in the Seattle music scene. His voice soars octaves, from a rich low register to falsetto coos and the occasional energetic guttural wail. Disston slides in smoothly on both slower numbers (“Well, Well”) and barnburners (“Window Sill”). One of my only real quibbles with Can’t Talk Medicine is that it doesn’t fully capture the totality of his range; Disston’s vocals come off ever so slightly reserved on the album when compared to Pickwick’s untamed live shows.
As for instrumentals, it sounds like the band has been playing these songs for years (because, well, it has). Garrett Parker leads with standout bass lines, be it the slick fretboard sliding on “Halls of Columbia” or bouncy plucking on “The Round.” The consistently sharp guitar work of Michael Parker adds a spring to the band’s step, particularly on upbeat numbers like “Hacienda Motel.” The record takes a slight misstep with the duet cover of Richard Swift’s “Lady Luck,” featuring singer-songwiter Sharon Van Etten. Even though the track has a distinctly Pickwick flavor, showcasing Disston’s highest notes, it still comes off drab compared to the buoyancy of the rest of the album. (When the hypertalented Van Etten can’t save a song, that’s saying something.)
Pickwick took its time to release its first full length, but thanks to years cutting its teeth on stages around Seattle, the group now has some well-deserved swagger, a “we nailed this” vibe. Like Allen Stone before them, Can't Talk Medicine positions Pickwick to break out beyond the comfortable confines of the Northwest. Seattle soul is alive and thriving.