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article imageMo Pitney, the saviour of real country music? Special

By Adrian Peel     Jan 14, 2015 in Music
The gifted young contender, whose chosen style harks back to the country of old, talks to Digital Journal about the pressures that come with carrying the hopes of millions.
In 2013, I discussed the possibility of traditional country making a comeback with one of the biggest country stars of the '90s, Aaron Tippin. "There's a Randy Travis out there somewhere," he predicted, "and it will happen."
The mention of Randy Travis is of course a reference to the fact that one of the finest vocalists of his generation almost single-handedly altered the musical landscape in 1986 by helping country music to revert back to its roots with his classic neotraditional release Storms of Life.
Fast forward nearly 30 years and country music once again finds itself in rather a dire state. Similar-sounding bro-country tunes about tailgates and trucks dominate mainstream radio and many purists regularly express their disdain for the rap and heavy rock influences that have been enthusiastically absorbed into the music they love.
Step up Mo Pitney (no relation to Gene), an ambitious 22 year old from a very musical family. He chatted to me from his home in Nashville, the city he moved to four years ago with his parents and siblings, while getting ready to go out on the road and continue his current radio tour.
"I've already visited 63 stations," he reveals, "and that's been about three months' worth of travelling - pretty crazy amounts of travelling, but that's kind of what we're in the middle of doing right now."
I immediately moved on to the subject of hype. How does this down-to-earth country boy from Illinois feel about the burden placed on his young shoulders; that he alone has been singled out by so many to be the one to revive traditional country music?
"I get that everywhere I go," he admits, "and I'm honoured that people say that. That is not my idea... My goal is to be myself and I don't really put a label on my music. I've never heard it called anything else but 'more country than what's on the radio.'
"I hear people say that I'm kind of the torchbearer for country music, and I'm honoured to be labelled as that, but I'm in the boat of not really knocking anything that's going on on the radio. I'm a fan of the artists that are out now and this is just how I translate music.
"And I don't think it will change the way radio is, but I hope and believe that there's room for what I do. I'm just hoping that I can have a window and an opportunity for my music to be heard."
Commenting on the Randy Travis comparisons - that he could do what Travis did all those years ago - Mo remarks, "I've heard that too. It's kinda cool... Jim Ed Norman, who works at the label - he is the Vice President of Curb at the moment - actually broke Randy Travis.
"He was the head of Warner Brothers when Randy Travis came out and he has been a huge key in letting me be myself over at Curb because he has seen a swing like that happen before. He has been more than confident about my music...
"He said, 'Last time I had meetings with someone like this was when I was meeting with Randy Travis' and that was a compliment to me because I'm such a huge fan of Randy."
"About six months ago I really felt it," says Mo of the pressure he's under to deliver what real country fans crave. "I felt it more than I do now and I still go through times that I do. When I feel it the most is when I go and play the Opry and things like that and I get to hang out with my heroes, like Bill Anderson and Merle Haggard, and they know about my music.
"When some of my favourite writers, like Dean Dillon, say, 'Mo, you're our hope of bringing back more of a traditional sound; if you can just swing it back a little bit, we can maybe get cheques in the mail again and be able to eat like we used to.'
"I want my career and my life to be more about other people and not about myself, and when I hear stuff like that, it makes me want to work harder for country music, to help these songwriters and people that are, I don't want to say starving, but I do know some great writers that could really use a paycheque."
The first song set to be released to radio is a tune Mo co-wrote with Bobby Tomberlin and the aforementioned Bill Anderson called, simply, "Country," a title with many different connotations, as the singer-songwriter explains: "At the time we wrote it, the fad was to have a song that said you had to be a farm kid to be a country boy, and I was never that.
"I was never a regular wearing-a-cowboy-hat type of country boy. I just knew about life and I knew about art and I knew about music. Bill said, 'That's what Merle Haggard was, that's what Buck Owens was and that's what Roger Miller and Ray Price were.'
"These guys sang about real-life stuff and they knew about real-life stuff. We talked about what we thought country music was and got around to trying to figure out what we thought the word 'country' meant.
"We had talked for probably about an hour or two and then we decided we'd write a song about it. Once we'd decided we'd write a song about it, we realised that we had the whole song written already because of everything that we had talked about!
"I think the overall idea of the song is that 'country' is not a place you're born, it's not a place that you're at, it's not something that you do - it's something in your heart. That's kind of the overall message of the song."
Tantalisingly, Mo has recorded a full-length album with George Strait's producer Tony Brown at the helm, and has managed to bring in the likes of Alison Krauss, Vince Gill and Ronnie Dunn to sing on it.
Is there a release date yet for what will surely be a contender for Country Album of the Year, if the two songs I've heard from it so far are anything to go by?
"Well we have just moved the release date for the single to February 9th," replies Mo. "It was January 26th, but because the radio tour's actually going so well, there's a few more major stations they wanted to put me in front of first.
"The record doesn't have a release date yet. It will all hinge on how well the single does and where it is on the charts. I don't know, but I'm guessing middle of the summer... There's like 20 radio stations that are already playing the song on heavy rotation, and Curb has not seen that with a new artist in a long, long time."
"Country" is out February 9th.
For more on Mo Pitney, visit his official website.
More about mo pitney, Nashville, randy travis, Country music, aaron tippin
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