REVIEW: Mo Pitney – ‘Behind This Guitar’

14595747_1218601104870973_2987192792411244786_n‘Good things come to those who wait’ is a phrase extolling the virtue of patience. Mo Pitney signed with Curb Records in June 2014. They released a debut single ‘Country’ in December 2014 and a second single ‘Boy And A Girl Thing’ in September 2015. They were not commercial successes and were not picked up on country radio, but Pitney nevertheless managed to garner himself an impressive buzz in the market that has clamoured for traditional country artists.

There has been a noticeable shift in wind direction over the last few months. The traditionalists have stirred and the mood seems to be with them. Stapleton has breached the defences and reinforcements have arrived. Jon Pardi and William Michael Morgan have both had number one singles, Cody Jinks and Sturgill Simpson are breaking through and even Florida Georgia Line are adapting their style. Finally, it seems that it may well be Mo Pitney’s time in the sun.

The comparison with William Michael Morgan inevitably has to be made. Both are 23. They have a similar style and should appeal to the same demographic. They are both singer songwriters although it can be argued that Pitney is probably more prolific in this regard. However, Morgan appears to be sitting towards the top of the country music tree with the success of ‘I Met A Girl’ and the hype surrounding his album that was released two weeks ago. Pitney is still reaching up towards the lower branches.

Morgan is signed with a major label, Warner Bros Nashville who have fast-tracked his climb up the ladder despite the pedestrian progress of the debut single up the charts. Curb Records have a reputation for taking things, shall we say, more slowly. The stories that circle around Curb’s artist development and support are well documented. Check out the previous comments made by Leann Rimes and Tim McGraw for their take on the way that Curb operate.

The facts are that there has been a 28-month gap between the release of Mo Pitney’s debut single and the release of his debut album. There has certainly been full opportunity for him to generate interest in his music. He has toured extensively and famously received a standing ovation when appearing at the Grand Ole Opry. His name has inevitably appeared on the lists of “Artists To Watch” over the last couple of years.

Most of the songs on this 12 track album have been performed acoustically in his live settings and it comes as no surprise that every track will appeal to those that appreciate country music from a traditional standpoint. Both the previously released singles are included and when hearing them again it’s a great pity that they were not commercially successful.

‘Country’ has all the elements that would surely appeal to an audience that has embraced ‘I Met A Girl’. It is only missing two vital components – radio play and familiarity. The lyrics are faultless. There would be a compelling argument to re-release this as a single and give it another opportunity to shine. It contains the phrase that speaks for our music – “Country ain’t even a place on the map…. it’s a place in your heart”.

The album is almost a throwback to the type of country music that was popular in the 90’s. With its traditional country arrangements, pedal steel guitars, fiddles and Pitney’s wonderful vocals. We might have been waiting an age but as a showcase that will hopefully bring Pitney into the mainstream, ‘Behind This Guitar’ ticks all the boxes.

‘Clean Up On Aisle Five’ won’t win awards for its lyrical complexity but the message is pure country. Boy meets old flame in a chance encounter. Flames are rekindled but ultimately fade away. Pitney’s songs evoke memories of an age when albums always used to be like this.

‘Come Do A Little Life’ is the type of song that some wish Kenny Chesney was still recording. A song that’s totally lacking any studio enhancements and stands or falls upon the quality of the vocals.

Canine lovers will embrace ‘It’s Just A Dog’, an emotional tale of the connection between a man and a man’s best friend. Pitney also revisits the honky-tonk style with his tribute to the Hag with ‘I Met Merle Haggard Today’. He sings it from the fans’ perspective. We have all been there. That fleeting moment when you meet your musical hero. “What was I thinking, I should have taken a picture on my phone”.

He never strays very far from his traditional country base but we have to highlight ‘Take The Chance’ with its minor chords and rhythm that becomes almost hypnotic. It’s probably the least ‘country’ but paradoxically the most compelling track on the project.

The production throughout the collection is minimalistic allowing Pitney’s sumptuous vocals to dominate. It’s all very easy-going but hugely rewarding. It may well be that the timing will pay off for Mo Pitney. Will the reaction to this release be greater now than at the beginning of last year? He comes out to bat at a time when the mood seems to be shifting in his favour. Maybe Curb were right to wait.

Graham Wharton