Better than Devils & Dust and more relevant to the real world than the Mountain Goats’ The Sunset Tree, Bobby Pinson’s debut, Man Like Me, can be found in the country racks, though it’s darker than anything dreamed up in Music Row’s philosophy. Pinson, a Texas songwriter who has written for LeAnn Rimes and Blake Shelton, has a sandpaper voice that would give Martina McBride’s vocal coach fits. But he’s also the first country artist in recent memory to decline to wave a banner for rural life, and his sandpaper pairs well with songs about Ford Fairlanes that are family heirlooms, cherry bombs that aren’t quite duds, keepsake lockets at the bottom of the river, shotgun-blasted Welcome signs in claustrophobic small towns, and star high school wide receivers sent to an early grave.
Sure, Man Like Me‘s radio-friendly country-rock is perhaps too tidy and professional for the bittersweet verses, but it’s already made a semi-hit of “Don’t Ask Me How I Know,” an advice/warning song where the authority figure admits by way of the title chorus that he’s made all the stupid mistakes first. And “Started a Band” even shows off a sense of humor—not to mention a sorry band (not Pinson’s) too slowly figuring out that covering “Stairway to Heaven” won’t get them onto CMT.