I was a bit wary when I received Wine and Pickles, not expecting too much out of it. It was really an unavoidable reaction due to the content I had before me – the CD is basically a large group of unused materials and studio outtakes. So I knew I probably wasn’t getting the best work from Mike here.
Wine and Pickles wound up exceeding my expectations, however – and by the time I was done with it the stigma of it being studio outtakes and uncut songs was totally lost on me.
I hadn’t heard much about Mike Keneally before receiving this CD, other than him being a former guitarist for Zappa. After a couple of listens to the album, I’m glad to say that he’s quickly becoming one of my new favorite artists. His quick, revved up and often virtuostic guitar work cuts through his material beautifully, while his backup band, on the tracks that they appear, are great instrumentalists and follow Mikes lead with great results.
The album is chock full of material to listen to, with 21 different tracks varied in size and content. Some tracks are no more than 40 seconds long, others stretch out well over seven minutes. Thus is my biggest complaint of the album, some of the songs within it were a bit overdone. A couple tracks like "Li l" and "4S" felt a bit tired out by the time their long track lengths had ended. A couple of the shorter tracks like "Unused Hum" felt cut off and too short, on the other side of the spectrum. Still, it’s only a minor complaint and doesn’t totally hurt the album. After all, you can always skip the songs you don't care for these days.
Keneally shows through most of the tracks that he is obviously a quite accomplished composer, with all kinds of different type of music from short piano numbers ("A Concise Piano Statement") to quick sliding acoustic guitar works ("Thou Shalt Not Kill") and pretty much anything else you could probably think of. Mike even provides great liner notes to each and every song explaining origins, writing credits, and everything else you could want to know. Having a grab-bag of different songs he wrote for other people, that would otherwise be quite hard to find, on the album is a nice bonus, I think.
My favorite parts of this album were when Mike and the band just plain old stuck to rocking, with "Skull Bubbles" and "Selfish Otter" sticking out. The versions on this album are uncut and several minutes longer than the official releases, showing some nicely placed improv and studio workings in the middle. The guitar work is grand and Mike has obvious songwriting talent, grabbing catchy hooks even on the instrumental tracks scattered throughout. When Mike rocks he rocks hard, and when the more acoustic songs like "Never Ever Wrong" come about, he shows his great ability do cover pretty much every genre.
If you’re thinking about getting this album, I recommend grabbing one or two of his more general albums – I’d go with Dog or Dancing – as well. Mike’s music rocks well all around and I’m fairly sure you won’t regret the purchase. Unless you’re one of those weird bluegrass fans or something.