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.
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