Paul Pigat,
Boxcar Campfire
(Little Pig, 2009)

Cousin Harley,
It's a Sin
(Little Pig, 2010)

Probably more people recall Hoyt Axton (1938-1999) -- if they recall him at all -- as an amiable character actor than as a folk- and country-based singer-songwriter. The son of Mae Boren ("Heartbreak Hotel") Axton, Hoyt released a number of albums, with a small smattering of radio hits (e.g., "Boney Fingers," 1974, "Della & the Dealer," 1979). Mostly, however, his songs charted with other artists' covers: "Greenback Dollar" (Kingston Trio), "The Pusher" (Steppenwolf) and "Joy to the World" (Three Dog Night) among them. I used to listen to his albums, which, if never fashionable, were pretty good. His voice, akin to the mild growl of a yarn-spinner bellied up to the bar, pleased my ears.

A resident of western Canada, Paul Pigat is better known among fellow musicians than to a larger listening public. As I hear him for the first time, I can tell you that he's the only singer-songwriter I've ever heard who brings Axton to mind. Axton is not mentioned on Pigat's website (or if he is, I missed him), but on Boxcar Campfire Pigat reminds me of what I liked about Axton: solid songwriting, good humor, a friendly, conversational voice, a down-to-earth attitude. Listening to Pigat makes me feel good. Axton did that for me, too.

Not that every song on Boxcar is necessarily a chuckle-fest. Pigat is perfectly able to deliver the goods even with sober material, such as the affecting "Nowhere Town" and the semi-grim "Dig Me a Hole." Boxcar is a mostly acoustic disc, folk-accented with occasional hints of another, more celebrated artist, the late Fred Neil. It's a treat from first cut ("Conductor Man") to last ("Spaghetti No Sauce"). Pigat is not out to change the world, just to produce music like they used to, the kind you don't mind hearing at all.

Cousin Harley is the name of Pigat's electric trio. He's doing vocals, electric guitar and steel guitar (and writing the songs), with Keith Picot on bass and Jesse Cahill on drums. The musical terms of reference are less rock and pop than the more rooted sounds of rockabilly, country boogie and Western swing, not to mention generous helpings of surf guitar. Pigat and friends mash them all up, having plenty of fun and passing the pleasure along.

As in its Boxcar folk incarnation, Pigat's writing on It's a Sin is the musical equivalent of meat and potatoes: if not fancy or high-brow, undeniably satisfying and nutritious. Fill up your plates, folks.

music review by
Jerome Clark

4 June 2011

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