Complex roots: Rooney Pitchford’s debut “Familiar Places”

Jan. 24, 2016, 8:08 p.m.
"Familiar Places," by Rooney Pitchford '15. (Courtesy of Rooney Pitchford)
“Familiar Places,” by Rooney Pitchford ’15. (Courtesy of Rooney Pitchford)

Rooney Pitchford ‘15, the mustachio’d, Kickstarter-funded, guitar-strumming baritone, has just released his debut LP “Familiar Places.” It opens with a one-two punch: the twangy, world-weary title track — a song about the pain and fatigue of accumulated experience —and the impassioned country jam “Becky,” which narrows in on the more specific past. But this one-two punch is a bit of a feint. By the end of these two tracks, the predominant musical style is country, but that’s not the whole story.

Indeed, although labeling Pitchford’s debut as country is a bit reductive, some still may label him as a country revivalist. Which is simply to say that — unlike many country artists — he’s in touch with the roots of the genre. Like great artists who’ve played country in the past (Johnny Cash, Ray Charles [circa “Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music”], Willie Nelson, etc.), Pitchford draws from other genres whose roots seamlessly intertwine with those of country and western music — rock, soul, gospel, Americana, and the blues. If this makes him a revivalist, then I hope to see more revivalists in the future.

(Courtesy of Rooney Pitchford)
(Courtesy of Rooney Pitchford)

Drawing from all these disparate influences, Pitchford is more than a country-radio songster singing about whiskey (although he does reference said beverage on “CD Jam”). “Long Talkin’ River,” a standout track from his debut, evokes soul and gospel with its affecting vocals and piano accompaniment. “CD Jam” evokes Americana and folk with its descriptive storytelling and acoustic picking. Lyrics like “Things don’t get started here till one or two in the afternoon / But Jim’s been up since dawn doing what it is Jim likes to do / We spend the day just saving money gotta have some left for Friday night / I got a job as the backdoor man at the continental club tonight” wouldn’t be out of place alongside Woody Guthrie’s “Dustbowl Ballads” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska.” As if this wasn’t enough to illustrate Pitchford’s wide variety of influences, the closing song on Pitchford’s debut is called “A Eulogy for B.B. King.” And it comes with a killer guitar solo that is all blues and rock n’ roll.

All this is to say that Rooney Pitchford’s new album “Familiar Places,” like all good albums, makes us question the purpose of labeling music at all. Whether it’s country, soul, blues, or rock n’ roll, the designations fade away when you listen, leaving you only with the question of how it resonates with you.

“Familiar Places” can be streamed and downloaded at

Contact Tyler Dunston at tdunston ‘at’

Tyler Dunston is a music writer for the Stanford Daily. He is a junior majoring in English and minoring in Art Practice. To contact him, e-mail tdunston 'at'

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