On his second album, Illinois-born Mo Pitney takes a confident step forward. Produced by veteran musician Jim “Moose” Brown, Ain’t Lookin’ Back is a rather apt title for a record that shares some of the spirit with Pitney’s 2014 debut Behind This Guitar, but forges ahead in a manner befitting someone with grander plans than simply settling for the modest crown of “critical darling.”
The decidedly traditional country feel of Pitney’s first record can certainly still be easily detected. His warm vocals and dedication to classic country instrumentation and arrangements clearly hasn’t wavered. But hardcore honky-tonk purists might be quick to sneer just a tad at the impossibly pristine production laid across the record.
That production quality by itself isn’t a crime. Some of the greatest songs in country history have been slathered with sheen in the studio on their way to rightful, iconic status (see: “He Stopped Loving Her Today).
And on that note, there’s plenty of winning material on Ain’t Lookin’ Back. The best tracks on the record are the ones that feel as though Pitney is the only one who could offer them up. The album-opening “A Music Man” provides a mission statement with a gentle acoustic guitar plucking along. By opening the album with the lyrics “I didn’t come here to be famous,” Pitney wastes no time in setting an impressively profound stage.
And what’s a traditional-leaning country album without tunes made for dancing? The elegant “Till I Get Back To You” is filled with convincing longing and should incite spontaneous, slow shuffling around the dance floor. The atmospheric “Mattress on the Floor” could’ve been a predictable tale of a man whose lonely abode was only matched by his lonely life, but instead, Pitney offers the promise of a full life up ahead by triumphantly singing “you got it all when you got nothing.” It’s a song that proves young love can be rolled out in inventive ways.
There’s some dreamy pedal steel on display through much of the record as well. The somewhat formulaic ode to simplicity “Plain and Simple” is given a glorious lift from the wafting steel sounds. The shuffling rhythm of “Looks Like Rain” is bolstered by a gorgeous crying pedal steel, just as is the galloping, almost western gothic title track.
A couple of songs near the end of the record really show off the range of textures Pitney is capable of carrying. “Local Honey” is a groove-intensive southern soul track with rich organ and slide guitar that bolsters the fun story of a guy looking for various types of “honey”. And “Jonas” is a dramatically stark, immensely moving perspective of Jesus’ crucifixion. It would’ve been interesting to hear some of the album’s earlier songs in such a musically stripped back manner.
The title of the record is an apt one to be sure. Ain’t Lookin’ Back is a bold, confident step for Pitney, who seems to relish the challenge of staying true to himself as he looks ahead to what else he can accomplish in his own unique way.