Flying First Class

Pete Mancini

Diversion Records, 2019

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


As a genre, Americana offers a big tent, encompassing roots music that may include strands of rock, country, blues, folk, and other distinctly American styles. Long Island’s Pete Mancini is an artist whose range lets him to cover much of the territory inside that big tent. His former band Butchers Blind favored the blues-rock element of Americana, while his 2017 solo debut Foothill Freeway went all in on country-folk. With his latest solo disc Flying First Class, Mancini locates a happy medium, sharing a sprinkling of all of the above across the nine tunes found here.

It’s a natural thing to do for a singer-songwriter who’s already proven he has the instincts and skills to handle all of the above. While Mancini’s vocals tend to remind of Jeff Tweedy—often plaintive, often laconic—on this particular set, his songs feel more like the sort of thing Johnny Cash and Roger McGuinn might have co-written with Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne: jangly country-rock tunes that often feature hard-living characters, but are infused with contemporary sensibilities, witty punchlines and earnest melancholy.

Opener “Pine Box Derby” establishes a common theme for several of the songs to come: regret. Starting out with just Mancini’s voice and acoustic, it delves into a dreamy, bittersweet memory from the narrator’s childhood, a moment of connection with a father who’s now gone, leaving behind a dark legacy: “It hurts like hell to lose someone you love / It’s worse when you’re cursed with a hand-me-down crutch.” As the intensity builds, Cassandra House comes in with gorgeous harmony vocals and Mancini adds electric guitar and piano, but never a rhythm section, leaving the underlying tension in both the music and the lyric unresolved.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“My Hometown” opens up with classic Byrdsian chiming guitars and a nostalgic-feeling sketch of said hometown, suggesting a fond memory right up until the chorus reveal: the narrator can’t wait to get out of town. “It’s such a drag, think I’m sinking down / My hometown, my hometown / I’d rather be dead in the ground than drop roots in my hometown.” (Ouch.) Bitterness turns to bitter laughter as “Cease And Desist” arrives, offering an upbeat, tongue-in-cheeky number about a hard-working bar-band player receiving the dreaded C&D letter from a rival. “We got lawyers on the way, just stop today / What’s mine is mine and not yours anymore.”

Mancini goes straight-up honky-tonk for the similarly winking “DUI Blues” before tripling down on the liquor-themed tunes with the full-on electric blues “SLA Check” (SLA being State Liquor Authority). “Back in Bakersfield” tells another tale of a guy stuck in a town he’s dying to get out of, though this one offers novelistic detail in place of snark, and features nice banjo work from co-writer Buddy Woodward. “Casino Lights” is a rather wistful mid-tempo number whose chorus offers a simple but perceptive summation: “Casino lights / Never seem as bright in hindsight.”

The album closes with a strong one-two punch. First title track “Flying First Class” delivers a driving, playful roots-rocker featuring rollicking piano and a snappy lyric mocking the pretensions of the first class crowd. At 2:18, it’s tight and tart. In terms of contrast, it’s the perfect lead-in to closer “The Day I Stopped Running,” a truly gorgeous acoustic ballad in which our narrator maybe, possibly, finally finds a moment of peace and clarity: “Regret twists the night / It’s been chasin’ me down my whole life / The day I stopped running / Is the day I ran into you.” It’s sublime, and the clear highlight of the album for this listener.

Backed by compadres Mick Hargreaves (bass & harmony vocals), Alex Sarkis (drums) and Buddy Woodward (guitars, banjo, mandolin), Mancini covers guitars as well as some bass and piano, while also self-producing the album with assistance from Hargreaves (engineering and mixing on all but two tracks) and Bill Herman (the other two). The sound is straightforward and uncluttered, just Pete and the gang doing their thing with no frills or gimmicks.

That’s a perfect fit for an album that manages to be both thoroughly unpretentious and subtly ambitious. Flying First Class might be on the brief side at 36 minutes, but Mancini explores a rich palette of sounds across these nine tracks, infusing each with an authentic love for roots music and the tools it offers to tell tales of people facing down troubles of all kinds with little more than heart and grit to get themselves by.

Rating: B+

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© 2019 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Diversion Records, and is used for informational purposes only.