CD REVIEW FEATURE – 2016
BEHIND THIS GUITAR (SONY-CURB.)
MO PITNEY MINES PURE COUNTRY
“Have you ever picked guitar on your front porch/ in the morning as the sun was rising'/ or followed your dog down to the river and ran into an ole baptising/ do you think to pull off on the side of the road when that big black hearse is passing/ have you ever helped someone in need without them even asking?/ we do that in the country, let me tell you about country.” - Country - Mo Pitney-Bobby Tomberlin-Bill Anderson.
Mo Pitney hails from bucolic Cherry Valley in Illinois so it's no surprise he counts Whispering Bill Anderson and the late Merle Haggard among his heroes.
At just 21 the singer wrote 2014 debut single Country with Anderson, now 78, and another about meeting Haggard who died on his 79 th birthday on April 6.
Mo, now 24, played in bluegrass bands as a teenager with his brother before moving to Nashville and chasing his dream.
Pitney released several pure country singles, accompanied by video clips featured on Nu Country TV , before his album scored Australian release.
But Mo, who earned a standing ovation from purists on the famed Grand Ole Opry , is unlikely to burn bright and rust.
Pitney co-wrote 10 of the 12 songs on his disc with seasoned writers from the deeper end of the hit pool.
So it was natural he was drawn to Anderson, whose hits span six decades, early in his writing career.
The first time Mo met the duo, they talked for hours about their varied lives, finding common ground in their love of traditional country artists, many of whom Anderson had worked with during his career.
“We spent half the day just talking about life in country music," Pitney revealed of his writing session with Anderson and prolific peer Bobby Tomberlin.
"What country music was, what we thought it was and what it meant to us. We talked about Bill's long life, my short life and Bobby's medium life, and how, even with all the age difference, we were all pointed to the same artists. I'm an old soul and I always lean towards the older artists: Ray Price, Buck Owens, Roger Miller and Merle Haggard. Not only just saying I like Merle Haggard, but studying his music."
Although they hadn't planned to write a song that addressed country music and the country lifestyle they all shared, Pitney says the idea to address the word "country" was too tempting.
But one aspect of the song that he wanted to avoid was making it all about himself.
"I was very careful," Pitney explained.
"Because a lot of people who write a song about what country is, it normally points to the singer - 'this is how country I am.' I didn't want to do that. I wanted to get out of the way of the song and point towards 'this is what I think country is.' The song is more an anthem for the word 'country' and for the lifestyle and the music so that other people can hold onto that. I don't want the attention on me; I want the attention on country."
MERLE HAGGARD MEETING
“I spent the morning pouring concrete/ I had a good hot plate of chicken for lunch/ filled the tank cause it was empty/ had a few errands to run/ and I know what you're thinking/ that sounds a little bit mundane/ but just wait, I met Merle Haggard today.” - I Met Merle Haggard Today - Mo Pitney-Don Sampson.
When Mo was 12 he had a "boxer's fracture," a broken arm in a cast that went from his elbow to over the ring and pinky finger on his right hand.
“And I wiped the concrete off my face and went and met Merle Haggard. Every word in this song is true.”
The details of Pitney's meeting with Haggard stuck in his mind - down to the very minute that he met the icon.
“I got to meet Merle Haggard for the first time on 2/4/2013 at 4:45,” Pitney recalls.
“When I got to meet him, I tell people that I just don't get nervous around people, but Merle was one guy that I walked away from that meeting going, ‘Holy crap, that was Merle freaking Haggard.
“And with that feeling that I'd never felt before, I went home and I had writing scheduled with a buddy of mine, Don Sampson and I said, ‘Hey, you want to write a song that's not gonna make my record?' and he said, ‘Sure!' I don't know why, but it ended up making my record anyway.”
“I'm a huge Merle Haggard fan. What Am I Gonna Do with The Rest of My Life is one of the greatest songs I've ever heard. Forget You Every Day is another great song. Farmer's Daughter's is probably in my top two, three favourite Haggard songs.
“I don't know all his music. A lot of people still stump me with some of the old stuff, but I know that I've heard some unbelievable music from Merle that I can't shut off. And the reason why I love it is not only because he's so melodic and such an unbelievable singer, but just the believability. The things he writes about. Kern River is another of my favourite songs.”
CLEAN UP ON AISLE FIVE
“I stopped off at the grocery store to pick up a few things/ and I was reaching for some Cheerios/ when I heard someone say my name I knew exactly who it was, my heart started to race/ I turned around my legs got weak when I saw her face/ there stood the girl that broke my heart just a year ago/ I thought that I was over her but little did I know/ that running into her like that would leave me in a total mess wishing that we never said goodbye.” - Clean Up On Aisle Five - Mo Pitney-Will Nance.
Pitney made his Opry debut with nostalgic ballad Clean Up On Aisle Five penned with Will Nance.
Mo defied advice to perform an up-tempo track and listened to his heart.
“Something in me told me I needed to play a ballad and I picked Clean Up ,” Mo recalled.
“And it was amazing that first night, first song we got a standing ovation, or the song got a standing ovation. I ended up playing the single right after that which was cool because I wrote the song with Bill Anderson and he introduced me that night.”
“ Clean Up on Aisle Five is about meeting a girl that you had dated in the grocery store and really falling apart. Will came up with the title. Lee Ann Womack had a song Last Time - always one of my favourite songs. The song is about losing a guy at a fairground, and I wanted a heartbreak song that didn't have to do with a girl cleaning out her closet or slamming the front door and leaving because I wasn't really living through that at the time, so I told him that.
“About a week later he said, ‘I think I got our title. It's a song called Clean Up on Aisle Five . He said, ‘I told it to a couple people and they thought it was kind of a tongue-in-cheek, fast song. What do you think?" I said, ‘I think it's sad and slow." And we wrote a country ballad out of it.”
Women also inspired upbeat positive love song When I'm With You, written with Australian tourist David Lee Murphy , and Come Do a Little Life where the male invites a woman to spend the rest of her life with him.
He describes simple things they can do together, from seeing a high school football game to going to the hardware store.
Love Her Like I Lost Her is a darker tale in which the man has a vivid dream about his girlfriend dying in a car crash and calls her in the middle of the night to make sure she's all right, and vows from now on to “love her like I lost her.”
BOY AND GIRL THING WITH A BLUEGRASS BELLE
“He's gross, she's got cooties/ that's just how it's supposed to be/ he hates dumb tea parties and she won't climb a tree/ it's a boy and girl thing, a girl and boy thing/ she'll stop wearing pigtails, get the braces off her teeth/ he'll stop making faces and start saving her a seat.” - Boy And A Girl Thing - Mo Pitney-Don Sampson.
Pitney followed 2015 second single Boy And A Girl Thing, featuring harmonies by Morgane Stapleton , by wedding his childhood sweetheart - bluegrass musician Emily Bankester of The Bankesters whose latest album Love Has Wheels was released in September.
The couple met at a bluegrass festival when they were both 15 while and playing with their family bands.
They married on March 5, 2016, at Emily's hometown church in Carbondale, Illinois.
“I went home to Rockford and told all my buddies, ‘I just saw the most beautiful girl I've ever seen in my life,” Moe recalled before the wedding.
They continued to meet at festivals but it was a slow burning romance.
“I found myself always kind of chasing her around,” Mo recalled but Emily who sings, plays fiddle and clawhammer banjo in her family band didn't exactly welcome attention.
“Her mum had advised her to stay away from me at the time. Her mum said she thought I was way too full of myself back then. Her words were that I was ‘really fond of myself.' And she was right, too. I was pretty arrogant back then.”
Their relationship changed three years ago.
“I struggled my whole life with depression and anxiety, for as long as I can remember,” Mo reveals.
“I had a lot of personal issues. God really changed a lot of that when I was 21. It's kind of amazing, but about a week later Emily had a very similar experience with God, where in a moment her life just kind of flipped around.”
They reconnected by phone and bonded over their shared experience over the next few months.
By then, Mo had signed with Curb Records and was out on his first radio tour.
“All of a sudden we both kind of realised that we weren't just friends anymore. We realised we wanted to be more than just friends.”
They began making the three-hour drive between her home in Carbondale and his new home in Nashville to spend time together.
Ten months into their romance Mo bought an engagement ring but his proposal was delayed in a day full of subterfuge, despite having the ring in his pocket.
The couple spent an afternoon walking around Nashville's Opry Mills mall, followed by dinner at the nearby Opryland Hotel , where they had also had their first date.
Mo pulled Emily into a jewellery store and asked her to point out what she liked, telling her not to get her hopes up since he believed in dating for a long time before getting engaged.
“I could tell she was getting frustrated,” recalled Pitney who chose a 180-acre property in Ashland City, Tennessee, where they rented a cottage they now live in.
“We drove back into the woods to one of my hunting spots,” Mo revealed.
They then walked to a spot he knew of where a creek formed a waterfall.
There, on a big rock overlooking the waterfall, he dropped to one knee, pulled out the ring he'd been carrying around all day and asked her to spend the rest of her life with him.
Members of both musical families including his sister Holly, whose harmonies adorn four songs on his album, sang at the wedding.
“I open up my eyes and feel you by my side before the morning light even hits me/ there's comfort in the knowing that anywhere I'm going, I know you'll be rolling with me/ Everywhere, every step, every sunrise, every sunset.” - Everywhere - Mo Pitney-Dean Dillon- Phil O'Donnell.
Mo wrote third single Everywhere with Dean Dillon, who released duet albums with the late Gary Stewart and solo discs, and Phil O'Donnell.
"I tend to attract the purists," Pitney confessed.
"They want to immediately link arms and say, 'let's fight this other monster.' And I say, 'it's not a monster. They're artists and they're doing what they do.' I just want to make music. I'm honoured that people see me as that but I'm not doing this as a way to be different."
Although Pitney is proud of his title track he didn't write it and still has big strings to fill.
“What I've come to realise is that I have a lot more to learn on guitar, there's a lot more that I'd love to learn on guitar,” Moe admits.
“My views of making it are different than other people: If I can be out playing music that I love personally, I don't care how many people are in the audience or if I'm on the radio. If I can make a living playing music I love then I'd say that I made it, but to be number one on radio, I don't know if that's be making it for me if I didn't get to play the music that I love. When I was sitting on the edge of my bed playing music I love, I felt like I made it.”
“Things are definitely happening for me,” confided Pitney who also penned tunes with veterans Byron Hill and Casey Beathard.
“But I don't think I ever tried to plan what my career would look like. It's not about praise or even having No. 1 songs. My goal is always to play music and make a living doing that. I have put most of my energy into treating people right and staying true to myself and my faith.”
“Any small bit of success I've had has been God-orchestrated and me having the ability to stay myself and not be influenced by anyone.
“When people listen to my music, I want them to know that what I'm singing about are things that I've lived through and that I really believe in, and I try not to be fake. I try to be the real person and living the life that I'm singing about.”
Pitney's faith is accentuated in Fernando Ortega penned album finale Give Me Jesus.