Songwriter carves out a niche in the Drive By Truckers monolith of country-rock.
New York songwriter, Pete Mancini, releases his third album recorded at Dial-Back Studio, Water Valley, Mississippi with Drive-By Truckers bass player, Matt Patton, on production duties. No doubt about it, in alternative country-rock Drive-By Truckers and Jason Isbell have combined to set the bar at an intimidating height. Any artist straying into their territory is going to struggle to avoid being overshadowed by these genre-defining giants. Pete Mancini has already established himself as a talented songwriter and performer having previously charted on the Americana Music Association radio chart and opened concerts for Blues Traveler, Gin Blossoms, Robbie Fulks, Marah, Steve Forbert and Amy Helm, and he certainly hasn’t wilted from the challenge. It was a bold move to head to Dial-Back Studio and entrust his album to Matt Patton, and work alongside another DBT stalwart in Jay Gonzalez. Inevitably, the end result invites comparison to Drive-By Truckers, but while there are undoubtedly some stylistic similarities, Mancini very much has his own thing going on, and a very good thing it is too.
From driving, country-hued rock to stripped-down, folkier songs, there’s plenty of variety across the ten tracks. They don’t have that distinctive DBT bite or snarl and the politics are more personal and less forceful and direct but Mancini’s songs are all strong in their own different ways. The lyrics are smartly observed and seem to have a strong personal connection, bringing to mind songwriters like John Prine, Rodney Crowell, James Taylor, Blaze Foley and even Townes Van Zandt.
Perhaps thanks to Patton’s clout as a producer, Mancini has some great musicians playing their socks off on his album. Drummer, Bronson Tew, shares the production role with Patton, with both of them teaming up to handle the rhythm section duties. Gonzalez provides some great keyboard work, while Schaefer Llana contributes some of her lovely harmony vocals, Horace Willis adds some nice guitar and Jamison Hollister lights up the album with some superb pedal steel and fiddle playing.
According to Patton, “It’s the sound of a songwriter with some releases under his belt coming out of the shell we all find ourselves in earlier on. It’s the sound of Pete trusting us to run with things and accessing a larger palette of sounds. It worked that the songs were reflections, predictions and hopes, opposed to the masked and isolated reality in which we were working.”
It’s not really fair to compare anyone to Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley who have, over the last twenty years, established themselves as great songwriters across more than a dozen Drive-By Truckers albums. But given the involvement of Patton and Gonzalez in producing and playing on ‘Killing the Old Ways’, and alongside the stylistic similarities, that comparison is difficult to avoid. Maybe Mancini is not quite at DBT level yet, but he’s making big strides in that direction. This is a fine album with some great playing and some cracking songs and fans of Drive-By Truckers and Jason Isbell should find much to savour and enjoy here.