Another male/female singing duo that understands how to write intensely personal folk songs that are enriched with some classic country tones, Count This Penny has crafted a masterful album. Banjoes, mandolins, and slides abound on Pitchman, 9 songs that satisfy from top to bottom with memorable harmonies and stories of personal heartache.
Count This Penny, which takes its name from Sesame Street (which is really awesome), is a trio of musicians from Madison, Wisconsin that sits squarely in the vein of The Civil Wars, yet manages to do something a little different. There is more country in Count This Penny than we’ve heard from The Civil Wars and it’s something that serves them very well. From the gravelly male vocals to the pedal steel on “Pitchman” and “Mountain” and intensely personal, often tragic, stories, this is country-folk music at it’s finest.
Pitchman begins with “Roll Up Your Sleeves”, a song that’s poignant and difficult to listen to lyrically. With lines like “roll up your sleeves and leave me lonely”, its a song that doesn’t try and sugarcoat the emotions that flow through it. Background violin and harmonies over the line “I know you ain’t comin’ home” really hammer those feelings home.
“Pitchman” is perhaps the best song on the album, an angry song that calls out the subject and their lies. While the chorus repeats “You ain’t nothin’ but a pitchman…selling snake oil made from holy water”, the writing is incredible. Lines like that fall into the background when the verse are so well written, “I ain’t saying you lied, just that I believed you,/ you know, the two aren’t always the same.” On the opposite end of the spectrum is “Storm With You”, a love song that almost sounds like an apology, one that sings “you know you’re no hobby.” It’s an honest song and it’s better for it.
Perhaps the most interesting and emotional song on the album is “Mountain”, a song that tells the story of a fishing trip between a father and son. It’s a song that starts with “It’s been ten years to the day, we went fishing” and sounds like a song that will tell that happy story, but that quickly changes with the next three lines. “…I never knew you had a gun./ They found your body by the old smokestacks,/ and that old shirt you wore, blistered by the sun.” Throughout the song, you can feel the pain and heartbreak of a father, the hopelessness and regret. Using the line “You said, ‘Dad, I know that mountain ain’t so tall,'” is the kind of juxtaposition that brings you tears. This song is a shining example of songwriting and how to convey emotion in music.
Pitchman and Count This Penny are yet another example of near perfect folk music, one that uses the harmonies of male and female vocals, outstanding songwriting, and traditional folk and country instrumentation to craft an album that, from top to bottom, is sure to please fan of the genre and beyond.