CD Review: Bobby Pinson, Man Like Me

There aren’t too many things more American than a set of songs delivered in a country-western twang, with hard-edged guitars, a dose of Jesus, and lyrics about cars and growing up. That’s Bobby Pinson‘s recipe, and projected through his gutsy songwriting and soaring, slightly unpolished baritone, it’s a winning combination.

Unlike a lot of Nashville “product,” Pinson’s new, self-penned CD feels uncompromised. Take out the twang and a lot of this material would be right at home on a John Mellencamp album, but that doesn’t make it any less authentically “country.” The songs are sentimental but (almost) never cloying, with classic melodies, well-crafted lyrics full of life lessons and Springsteenesque storytelling, and a thrumming country-rock kick. The first single, “Don’t Ask Me How I Know,” is a witty example of a “list” song, its funny and poignant items pregnant with vivid experience that develop from the humorous to the touchingly sad:

Don’t ride your bike off a ramp that’s more than three bricks high
Don’t take that candy from the store if you ain’t got the dime
Don’t pick a fight with the little guy that doesn’t talk that much…
Don’t ask me how I know…
Don’t rush off the phone when your momma calls
You ain’t that busy
You ought to make that drive to say goodbye
To your grandpa before he goes
Don’t ask me how I know

Complete with a guitar riff that echoes Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” and a climactic minor chord, “Don’t Ask Me” could become a classic.

The title track is a more contemplative expression of the life-lessons theme:

Let your buddy leave a party
And don’t ask him for his keys
Rest that casket on the shoulder where your best friend used to lean…
That’s how you make a boy become
More than just his father’s son.

But this honky-tonk Polonius is more than an everyman-preacher. Other highlights include the elemental growing-up tale “I’m Fine Either Way” and the Eagle-esque lost-love rocker “Way Down.” “One More Believer” is a slightly sappy but effective religious song that only the most militant of atheists could fail to appreciate. “Started a Band” is a catchy, humorous take on the ups and down of trying to make it in music.

Anyone who mines this standard territory risks over-sentimentality and cliche, and Pinson slides a little too far in that direction in “Ford Fairlane” and “Shadows of the Heartland.” But these are exceptions. Nearly all the songwriting on this album is solid, and some of it is sparkling.

Pinson’s voice combines the heft of Bruce Springsteen with the plaintive catch of Townes Van Zandt. It’s an instrument perfectly suited for his formula: four parts old-fashioned subject matter straight from the heart, one part modern angst.

Highly recommended for fans of country music, roots-rock, heartland rock, and good storytelling via song.

[Cross-posted at Blogcritics]