Album Review – Mo Pitney’s ‘Behind This Guitar’

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Right now in popular country music there’s a triumvirate of traditionalists on major labels that have people excited about the future prospects of the genre improving. Those three artists are Jon Pardi, William Michael Morgan and Mo Pitney. The first two artists have certainly gotten their fair share of buzz in 2016, as both racked up their first #1 singles at radio. Pardi’s California Sunrise has gotten mostly positive reviews (mine probably being the most positive) and Morgan’s debut album Vinyl has gotten a lot of high praise (my review probably being the most negative). But Pitney has sort of been the odd man out this year. He has yet to have a single reach the top 30 and there was very little hype leading up to his debut album Behind This Guitar. By very little hype, I mean barely anyone has been talking about it. The crowded fall release schedule is a small factor, but I believe this had more to do with Curb Records. But despite the little talk around the album, I certainly didn’t forget it and was hoping for the best as I dug into it. Unfortunately after listening to it, the problems leading up to its release are only exemplified more in the music.

Before I get to what’s wrong with this album, there are a few praiseworthy things on Behind This Guitar. The best song of the album is “Clean Up On Aisle Five.” I previously reviewed it and gave it glowing remarks. I still stand by that review, as the song perfectly captures the dread and sadness of running into an ex you’re still in love with. The song represents Pitney at his best and it’s a shame we don’t hear more songs like this on the album. Another highlight of Behind This Guitar is “It’s Just A Dog.” It sees Pitney recalling finding his dog along the side of a road, abandoned and alone. He then goes over the memories and life of the dog and the impact it had on his life. The song centers around how most people would say it’s just a dog, but to him that dog is something more, a friend and a companion. The dog eventually passes away, crushing him. It’s a real tear-jerker of a song, especially to people who may have lost a pet.

“Come Do A Little Life” is a tad on the broad side, but it’s a solid love song. It’s an easy song to sing along with and relate to, making it a worthy candidate of being a single for Pitney. The album’s title track is essentially Pitney paying thanks to the point he has reached in his career and getting to live his dream of making country music for a living. It’s shows his humbleness and dedication to his craft, which is something he will need if he wants to have a long career (more on this in a second). There’s real meaning behind the song, which the listener will feel. People will remember this and connect with the artist more when they give the listeners songs like this one. It’s just straightforward honesty.

Now let’s get to what I have a big problem with on this album. It was something that showed up on Pardi and Morgan’s albums earlier this year too, but it’s to a bigger extent on Behind This Guitar. This album does not stand out and it isn’t distinctive in any way. It seems to heavily rely on the it’s “real country” aspect that I forewarned of in my pandering and “saving” country music piece. Other than “Everywhere,” this album has plenty of fiddle and steel guitar. But the lyrics are completely lacking. The first single and song of the album “Country” is generic and is obviously pandering. The song is all about how country is a state of mind. This is the easiest of easy themes to sing about in a country song. The current single of the album, “Everywhere,” perfectly represents the type of song Pitney does too much throughout this album: generic and meaningless. I know he’s a new artist, but the amount of boring, trite music on Behind This Guitar is staggering.

The previous single “Boy & A Girl Thing,” is one giant gender stereotyping and didn’t surprise me at all that it didn’t do anything at radio (then again Dierks Bentley’s “Different For Girls” was similar and reached #1). I’m assuming Pitney is paying tribute to a legend and an inspiration with “I Met Merle Haggard Today.” Pitney recalls the day he met Haggard, which I’m sure was a special day for him. But even the Hag would agree with me that this song is just not memorable. It’s also centered on expecting the listener to pop for the song just because it mentions Haggard. This goes back to the pandering issue. “Take The Chance,” “When I’m With You” and “Love Her Like I Lost Her” are all the same song essentially. They’re generic, boring and cliché songs that have been done to death and do nothing to rise up and stand out. What’s worse is all three of these songs are in a row, which helps create a giant lull in the back half of the album and bores the listener.

It’s very easy to point the finger at Mo Pitney for Behind This Guitar being a mostly boring album. He certainly deserves some of the blame, as his name is on the album and songs. But this goes back to him being a new artist. So I put most of the blame for this album being lackluster and uneventful on Curb Records, who at this point has completely failed Pitney. Their promoting of him and his music has been absolutely pathetic and they should be ashamed of how badly they’ve mangled his career so far. Here they have a promising young talent and instead they’ve been investing their time and money more in artists past their prime and artists who will never be stars. I didn’t even know Pitney’s current single “Everywhere” was sent to radio this month until I did research for this album and I constantly keep up with country music news.

It’s quite clear that Curb did not put a lot of support behind Pitney and this album. Say what you want about Big Machine and other major labels, but they do a hell of a lot better job with their new artists and actually give them a chance to succeed in comparison to Curb. Behind This Guitar was doomed from the beginning and that’s a damn shame. The best advice for Pitney for his next album would be to 1) get a better producer who can actually put some life and energy behind the songs, 2) step up the songwriting and 3) run away from Curb Records as soon as possible. An artist with the talent of Mo Pitney should be not be relegated to releasing such lazy and forgettable music.

Grade: 5/10

 

Recommend? – No, only the album highlights

Album Highlights: Clean Up on Aisle Five & It’s Just A Dog

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: Country, Everywhere, Boy & A Girl Thing, I Met Merle Haggard Today, Take The Chance, When I’m With You, Love Her Like I Lost Her


The Hodgepodge: What Song Defines Country Music to You?

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It made it’s debut a few weeks back and now it’s back again. That right, this is an Ask The Readers Hodgepodge. It’s quite simple: I pose a question to you the readers and in the comments below we will discuss what our answers would be to the question. Sometimes it will be a yes or no question, but most times it’ll be something a little more detailed. This second Ask The Readers Hodgepodge will be quite subjective and should have a variety of answers.

If you had to choose one song, what song defines country music to you?

Guidelines:

  • This song can be from any era at anytime. Just be prepared of course to defend your choice, as someone will always be naturally curious as to why you chose a song.
  • There are no wrong answers, just like the previous Ask the Hodgepodge.
  • And of course feel free to pick songs for other genres if you feel like it, as we’re all music fans first.

 

As far as my answer for this question, the song I would pick that I feel defines country music is Townes van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty.” There have been many versions of this song, but I would have to pick Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s version as my favorite. The reason I would choose this song is it just has everything that a perfect country song should have. It was written by one of music’s greatest songwriters of all-time and performed by two of the best artists in the genre’s history. The song explores death, sadness and grief with some of the best storytelling you’ll ever hear in music. The instrumentation perfectly conveys the melancholy nature expressed by the lyricism in the song. To my ears it’s the perfect country song, defining the rich tapestry of the genre.

I would also highly recommend Jason Isbell and Elizabeth Cook’s version of the song, which is quite excellent too.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Tomorrow William Michael Morgan will release his highly anticipated debut album Vinyl.
  • Also tomorrow the legendary John Prine will release his new duets album For Better, or Worse.
  • Aubrie Sellers new album New City Blues will be re-released through Warner Bros. Nashville tomorrow. “Sit Here and Cry” is going for adds at country radio on October 17.
  • Strap yourself in for October because it’s going to be a very busy month of releases, starting next Friday when the following albums are released:
    • Shovels & RopeLittle Seeds
    • Mo PitneyBehind This Guitar
    • Brent CobbSolving Problems
    • Matt WoodsHow To Survive 
  • Josh Abbott Band’s new single is “Amnesia” and it’s going for adds at country radio on October 17.
  • The Last Bandoleros released a self-titled, six song EP via digital services last week.

Throwback Thursday Song

Gary Stewart – “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” – I feel like a lot of week’s I’m picking too many well-known acts and songs so this week I wanted to find a deeper cut from the past. Stewart is sort of unsung when discussing the best country artists of the 70s, but he shouldn’t because his music is excellent. This is his biggest hit and one of my personal favorites.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial – So this is an album and group I’ve been hearing a lot about from fellow music fans and critics. It’s received widespread praise and finally I got around to checking it out. Well now I know why it’s getting so much praise. I’m not usually a big fan of emo indie rock, but the songwriting on display on this album is impeccable. Turns out Teens of Denial is the 10th studio album and 13th overall album by Car Seat Headrest and they’ve only been a band for six years. That’s insane! Check these guys out.

Tweet of the Week

The picture he’s referring to is John Prine hugging Isbell after he won Americana Song of the Year for “Something More Than Free” at the Americana Awards last week. I would be pretty damn happy to get a hug from a legend too.

A Spot-on Review of Luke Bryan’s New EP

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Luke Bryan released a new EP for his annual farm tour and predictably it’s not good. The only difference between it and his usual studio albums is here he thinks he can pander to farmers and the working people of America because I’m sure they see the millionaire artist who now sings about the clubs and dresses like a Nordstrom model as someone they can relate to (wanking motion). This listener above wasn’t fooled though and rightly calls him out.

The Hodgepodge: Pop Duets Ignore Country’s Rich Talent Pool of Female Artists

Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – “Different for Girls”

Brad Paisley feat. Demi Lovato – “Without a Fight”

Kenny Chesney feat. P!nk – “Setting the World on Fire”

One of the most recent musical trends out of Nashville, as you can tell by the above pairings, is partnering a male country singer with a female non-country singer to record a non-country song, probably in hopes for a crossover hit. Three big, veteran names in country music are using the big names from female pop acts to gain even more exposure and revenue.

This isn’t a terrible trend, and Paisley and Chesney’s songs aren’t terrible. “Different for Girls” has some backwards lyrics, but Dierks and Elle sing the song well, and I like the production to the tune. My only gripe with this trend is that it blatantly ignores a large, talented pool of female singers in country music. Females who already struggle to get songs on the radio by themselves. To be fair, Dierks Bentley also recorded “I’ll Be The Moon” on Black with newcomer Maren Morris, a song which received quite a bit of album promotional play and press before the album’s release. However, the label decided to move forward with the Elle King duet as the single, not the Morris duet.

I know the answer to this question is money and marketability, but why not record these same songs with country newcomers? Mickey Guyton has a vocal power similar to Demi Lovato, and could easily fit into “Without a Fight.” In Fact, on several occasions while on tour with Paisley, Mickey Guyton sang Allison Krauss’ role in “Whiskey Lullaby.” I think Mickey Guyton could have sung Lovato’s parts and “Without a Fight” could still be just as good.

Like I said, I know that there’s a certain marketability that comes with having Demi Lovato’s or P!nk’s name attached to a song as opposed to Mickey Guyton or Cam. Outside of the obvious pop demographic (which the songs are clearly catered toward), those two names are just simply more well-known. But even some singers like Kellie Pickler and Lauren Alaina are good singers themselves and have the American Idol notoriety surrounding their name.

Obviously the larger purpose of songs like the ones mentioned above is the fact that these females attract a non-country audience to song and probably double the listening potential. But coming off a year in which the problem of females on country radio, or lack thereof, was headlining everywhere, it’s odd to me that producers would gloss over that potential talent pool.

Chris Young recently had a number one song on the Airplay Charts that he recorded with Cassadee Pope. “Think of You” is just as Adult Contemporary sounding as the three aforementioned songs. So don’t try to argue that “country females won’t sell” because clearly a duet between male and female COUNTRY singers sold and succeeded.

I’m probably just beating a dead horse and screaming at a brick wall because complaint’s like this haven’t helped. Even with Tomato Gate on everyone’s mind last year, Carrie Underwood and Kelsea Ballerini are still the only females getting consistent radio airplay. Yet women like Lori McKenna, Brandy Clark, Aubrie Sellers, and Margo Price have all released great albums this year. Why don’t we hear them on the charts? Why aren’t labels pursuing duets with these talented singers? Yes, Aubrie Sellers has recently signed a deal with Warner, and Lori McKenna has seen excellent success as a songwriter from “Girl Crush” and “Humble and Kind.” However, it’s still a shame that several of country’s talented female singers are overlooked for a cash-grab pop duet.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Mo Pitney has announced his debut LP through Curb Records. Behind This Guitar will be released October 7.
  • William Michael Morgan announced his debut album, Vinyl, will be released on September 30.
  • Reckless Kelly will release Sunset Motel on September 23.
  • Also on September 23 Dwight Yoakam is releasing a bluegrass album titled Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…
  • Jack Ingram will release Midnight Motel on August 26. Hear the new single, “I’m Drinking Through It.”
  • The Cadillac Three will release Bury Me in Boots tomorrow.
  • Cody Johnson will release Gotta Be Me tomorrow.
  • Next Friday, both Cody Jinks (I’m Not The Devil) and Kelsey Waldon (I’ve Got a Way) will release albums. A day which is sure to be a good day for new country music.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn With all the talk of country duets today, what could be better than a duet from two of country’s best singers? Sit back and enjoy this 1973 hit from their duet album of the same name.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Foo Fighters “Everlong” The only non-country music I’ve listened to this week is the Foo Fighters Greatest Hits album, so I recommend what is probably my favorite Foo Fighters song.

Tweet of the Week

I told myself not to mention a certain country group that I wrote about in last week’s Hodgepodge, but this tweet pretty much sums up my opinions on “Comeback Kid.”

iTunes Review for Big Smo

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This guy hates the fact that country fans call Big Smo not country. Especially when later on in this review, he clearly states how Big Smo raps. Sure we don’t technically own the word “country” but we know which music is actually country music and which is actually rap or hick hop.

The Hodgepodge: What I’d Like to See From Country Music in 2016

A new year brings forth the desire to reflect upon the past year. What went well, what went poorly, what can we learn, and how can we improve. That’s sort of the universal mindset for most of us in early January, and that’s the mindset I’m going to use for this first Hodgepodge of 2016. Last year had quite a bit of buzz worthy events in country music from Keith Hill’s comments regarding females on radio to Chris Stapleton’s rise and triumph at the CMAs. But instead of looking back at the year that was 2015, I want to approach this as how can we build on what happened in 2015 to make 2016 a great year for country and Americana music.

These aren’t predictions or theories of what I think may happen. These are merely my hopes for what I’d like to see happen. This is how I’d like to see country music (primarily mainstream country music) move forward in 2016. I realize some of these hopes may be outlandish and not as realistic as others given the culture of country music right now. The overall goal of this first Hodgepodge is to get a discussion moving about country music in 2016.

More Traditional Country Music on Radio

The success of Chris Stapleton as 2015 came to a close should not be taken lightly. Stapleton’s Traveller was released to critical acclaim, and his three CMAs in November proved traditional sounding country music still had popular appeal. Kacey Musgraves continued her commitment to traditional country music with Pageant Material. While her sophomore album didn’t quite have the same success as Stapleton this year, Musgraves still has some popular appeal maintaining a steady headlining tour in support of the new album. And, of course, Sturgill Simpson has signed on with a major label and may release an album this year.

Traditional newcomers like Mo Pitney, Jake Worthington, and William Jake Worthington EPMichael Morgan have released singles and EPs that have impressed critics. Jana Kramer found success with her single “I Got The Boy”, a ballad that calls back to the sounds of 90s country. And The Dixie Chicks, one of the top acts in country in the past 15 years, has announced a reunion tour which could result in new music. I hope more and more artists with a traditional leaning style come out of the woodwork, including full length albums from several of the aforementioned artists. The demand for more traditional country music is high, and the supply appears to be growing. I’d like to see more traditional country music on the radio, especially if Stapleton’s “Nobody to Blame” charts well.

A Radio Split

The mere fact that Billboard has recently added a new country chart solely dedicated to radio play (the Hot Country Songs chart takes streaming and digital sales into account) tells me that radio is still an important media source even in this digital age today. If traditional country music does gain more popularity while singers like Sam Hunt, Luke Bryan, and Kelsea Ballerini continue to spew pop garbage onto country radio, I think the argument for radio split could be reignited. Putting traditional singers on their own format with newcomers and legends alike will allow fans to listen to that music on radio without having to wait for “Break Up in a Small Town” and “Home Alone Tonight” to play first.

Bigger Spotlight on Americana and Indie Country

Dave Cobb winning a CMA award for Chris Stapleton’s Traveller was huge. Cobb has produced many critically acclaimed albums for artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. Those two artists have gained more popularity in their own independent music world. And as Saving Country Music suggested, Miranda Lambert dating indie rocker Anderson East could lead to more eyes on the indie music side of things. 2015 saw many non-mainstream artists have number one albums and earn new fans. Even Kacey Musgraves pushed her new music to Americana radio. Americana radio could grow this year, giving these true artists a much deserved audience increase.

137650_4657More Females on Radio

In the wake of Keith Hill’s tomato comments, we saw Kelsea Ballerini get a number one single. Newcomer Cam peaked at number 2 with “Burning House” on the Airplay Charts, and Carrie Underwood had a few singles find some great, if still underwhelming, chart success. Mickey Guyton’s “Better Than You Left Me” received more radio adds upon its release than any other artist ever. More awareness was brought to the disparity between male and female artists in regards to radio play, and I hope 2016 continues the trend of bringing more females onto country radio. There’s a talented pool of women who are ignored.

Mainstream Country Music Defining Itself/Gatekeepers

The term “country music” is rather arbitrary these days. You have club songs like “Beautiful Drug” and R&B inspired pop songs like “Break Up in a Small Town” sitting in the top 30 of the Country Airplay chart, alongside truer country songs like “Nobody to Blame.” It doesn’t matter what the song sounds like, if it’s labeled country, it’ll be played on country radio. It’s this type of saturation of musical forms which should drive a split. But if the radio split does not happen, country music is in desperate need of a gatekeeper to tell Sam Hunt to take his shitty pop music out of Nashville and onto top-40 pop radio.

Fair Payouts from Streaming

This is more concerned with the music business as a whole, but something that’s important in this day and age. Apple Music, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify and others are growing the availability of online music streaming. We’ve seen several complaints about the low artist payouts that come from Spotify play counts. If music continues to trend toward online streaming options and away from standard radio, then these companies need to find a better way to compensate the artists whose music is played on these services. Or music listeners just need to suck it up and pay $12 for an album if they want to listen to the music uninterrupted.

Upcoming/Recent Music Releases

Josh covered the upcoming album releases earlier this week, but here are few known coming single releases:

  • Trace Adkins’ “Jesus and Jones” goes for radio adds on January 19.
  • Old Dominion’s newest single for radio is “Snapback”
  • Cole Swindell’s newest single is called “You Should Be Here.”
  • Drake White has a new single out called “Livin’ The Dream.” Zack’s first post for Country Perspective will be a review for the song published tomorrow.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Yesterday’s Wine” by George Jones & Merle Haggard. “Yesterday’s Wine” was written by and originally recorded by Willie Nelson in 1971, but I’ll admit that I like Jones & Haggard’s cover better. The song is great, and Blackberry Smoke even has a cover which they recorded with George Jones and Jamey Johnson.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface. I listened to a lot of Alternative Rock music over my Christmas vacation and heard “Stressed Out” quite a bit. I hadn’t listened to Twenty One Pilots at all before then, but I was intrigued and liked their album Blurryface. The album was released early last year, but it’s a good one to revisit.

Tweet of the Week

Hard to argue with that.

Two iTunes Reviews That I Don’t Understand

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The top review was left under Chris Stapleton’s Traveller. I don’t understand how you can listen to Chris Stapleton sing and think his voice is the worst thing ever.

The second review was for Old Dominion’s Meat and Candy. The worst album of 2015 deserves some more hating on. I don’t understand how you could possibly compare Old Dominion to Alabama.

Both reviews are just absurd.

Note from the author: I’m happy to take the reigns of The Hodgepodge back from Josh after a short hiatus last year. The end of 2015 was insanely busy for me at work and at home (all good things!). But things have calmed down for now and I’m glad to have more time to write again. 

I omitted the “This Day in Country Music History” for this week. Was this a category you enjoyed to read when I wrote The Hodgepodge last year? If so, I’ll gladly bring it back. If not, I’ll come up with something else to add to the feature. Thanks!

Great Music Currently at Country Radio [December 16]

The very best of country radio right here in a nice playlist. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly. Normally this feature is part of The Hodgepodge, but I’ve decided to make this a weekly standalone post. Here’s where all the songs currently stand on the chart:

4. Cam – “Burning House” 

8. Chris Young – “I’m Comin’ Over”

12. Jana Kramer – “I Got The Boy” 

20. Eric Church – “Mr. Misunderstood”

24. Chris Stapleton – “Nobody To Blame”

33. Maddie & Tae – “Shut Up and Fish” 

36. George Strait – “Cold Beer Conversation”

37. Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots”

40. Frankie Ballard – “It All Started With A Beer”

41. Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink”

43. William Michael Morgan – “I Met A Girl”

45. Kip Moore – “Running For You”

51. Mo Pitney – “Boy & A Girl Thing”

55. Love & Theft – “Whiskey on My Breath”

58. Ashley Campbell – “Remembering”

59. Toby Keith – “Beautiful Stranger” [Re-Entered Chart]