Mo Pitney takes his rightful place among country's music's staunchest traditionalists with the release of his debut album, Behind This Guitar.

The 23-year-old singer-songwriter and guitarist has created an album that could have easily been released several decades ago, and the timeless quality of the tracks -- which are not produced in a way that ties them sonically to any particular period of time -- is undoubtedly one of the greatest strengths of the project.

Behind This Guitar features a satisfying mix of slower and more up-tempo songs, leaning very strongly toward straight, traditional-sounding arrangements. Pitney is very effective on the slow weepers, including "Clean Up on Aisle Five," "It's Just a Dog" and "Love Her Like I Lost Her," and he has an admirable penchant for reaching for emotionally resonant themes that are often more profound than much of contemporary country music, which helps his music stand out that much more.

The faster songs on the project mesh well and help to balance out the pacing, and there's no faulting what is often outstanding instrumentation and singing. Pitney demonstrates a consistent knack for strong hooks and interesting lyrics from a unique perspective, too, though overall the project adheres so strictly to traditional forms that the arrangements can feel predictable in spots, albeit predictable in a way that is still enjoyable.

Pitney is at his best when he is engaging his listeners in his optimistic, enthusiastic view of the world, which drives songs including "Come Do a Little Life," "I Met Merle Haggard Today" (which also features some of the album's hottest picking), "Take the Chance" and "When I'm With You." His earnest delivery sets him apart from much of what's at country radio today and gives him a surprisingly strong identity for a first-time recording artist, while "Everywhere" gives fans a glimpse of a slightly more contemporary, commercial side to Pitney's music.

The very quality that is one of his greatest strengths may also be a drawback in the current climate of country music. Pitney offers up such an unjaded dose of sincerity that it can border on being too sugary. Faith and love are certainly primary themes of country music, and they're on full display on Behind This Guitar.

But so are harder emotions like anger, betrayal and pathos, which are in remarkably short supply here. One comes away with what feels like an incomplete picture of who Pitney is and what he might have been through, but it's a very well-crafted one that is far stronger than most freshman releases, and clearly the product of an artist of considerable talents.

Did You Know? Pitney's brother and sister both recorded with him for tracks on Behind This Guitar.

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