Mo Pitney | Ain’t Looking Back | (Curb)
3 out of 5 stars
The cover photo of Mo Pitney’s sophomore album confirms that he’s grown more facial hair since his successful 2016 debut, but otherwise little has changed. Few reviews of the still young Pitney don’t mention his vocal similarity to Randy Travis but that’s not a problem. Rather it’s an asset relative to the clean, upbeat commercial county music he plays.
Besides a few concessions to a slightly more fashionable sound, utilizing the occasional programmed drum loop (subtle and almost organic), Pitney still exudes the good ol’ boy persona and even doubles down on it. That’s especially true for “Ain’t Bad for a Good Ole Boy” with lyrics about his rusty pickup, pancakes on the griddle, worn blue jeans and his best girl by his side (“the honey in her lovin’ is like money in my cup”). And while this isn’t going to keep Bob Dylan up at night, it’s not trying to. Pitney’s boyish charm seems to come naturally and not from a focus group of what country music fans want to hear. Although the two clearly converge.
The approach turns a bit more atmospheric on “Mattress on the Floor” about a poor but happy protagonist who has “Haggard on her tee shirt and box wine on her kiss” but who has it “all when you got nothin’.” The humble but contented thread runs through other tracks too like “Old Stuff Better,” a ballad where Pitney praises his worn jeans, old truck, scratchy 45s, not using e-mail and well, you get the idea. “I guess that’s just the way I’m put together,” he sings over crying pedal steel. Word.
While Pitney’s Norman Rockwell vision is of an America that may only exist in black and white reruns of Mayberry RFD, it’s hard not to get swept into that world because he is obviously invested in it. His smooth baritone voice goes down like the sugary syrup that appears in “Local Honey” and his easy rolling melodies have catchy choruses that stick. Even though he claims that he “ain’t looking back,” as the disc’s name and title track proclaim, the peppy bluegrass of “Old Home Place” (“why did I leave the plow in the field and look for a job in the town?”) and the general “older is better” vibe permeates, even dominates, Pitney’s view. Rather his agreeable, relaxed and professionally produced music revels in an old timey, somewhat timeworn worldview.
Those hungry for the equivalent of country comfort food are well served by Pitney’s diner. The singer/songwriter’s reassuring style and sound balances a retro sensibility with contemporary, somewhat slick, but never intrusive production. It’s a roots based groove that should find at least half of these songs blasting out of car radios and his videos given substantial rotation on CMT.