The Pink Stones are an Athens, Georgia, sextet whose country-rock stylings will sound familiar to anyone versed in the sounds of the region. According to the band’s official bio, singer/songwriter/guitarist Hunter Pinkston started as a mainstream rock fan, got into punk as a teenager, and eventually came to country music a few years later. The resulting sound is a rock-informed version of country music with a little more emphasis on the crooning side of that sound. The Pink Stones are smoother than other country-rock acts to come through Athens, most notably the more muscular Drive-By Truckers, whose leader Patterson Hood followed the same musical path as Pinkston.
The band boast a direct link to the Truckers in the form of pedal steel specialist John Neff. Neff was a founding member of that band and spent the better part of two decades drifting in and out of Drive-By Truckers while also playing with Athens drone-pop ensemble Japandroids and guesting on pedal steel on dozens of other artists’ records. He started as a guest with the Pink Stones as well before joining as a permanent member. His pedal steel gives the band a three-guitar lineup, but with most songs boasting acoustic, electric, and pedal steel, there’s plenty of sonic variety here.
Introducing… The Pink Stones is, by most metrics, a listenable and competent album. The Pink Stones are strong players, and the three distinct guitars and omnipresent keyboards give the songs a thick, full sound with interesting riffs and melodies for listeners to enjoy. But Pinkston’s songwriting is inconsistent. His songs are never less than pleasant, but he’s operating in a well-trod genre, and he doesn’t always have the lyrical or musical chops to make these tracks stand out from the decades of country-rock history or even his contemporaries.
The opener “Blueberry Dream” is a good example. It’s an upbeat, mid-tempo track where Pinkston sings about a woman he’s pining over. Neff’s pedal steel accents give the song a boost, and there’s a good electric guitar-to-pedal steel solo, but the verses and chorus sound nearly the same, giving the whole track a nice but unremarkable feel. “Love Me Hardly” operates in a similar vein. A slinky country blues guitar riff opens the song, and the band effectively lock into this groove. This groove provides low-key smiles, at least until the lyrics kick in. Pinkston wrote two verses here but repeats the second in lieu of a third one. And “I can’t seem to get my kite flying / No matter how hard I’ve been trying” is not a strong enough line that it bears repeating. Similarly, the chorus “You can call me Charlie / Even though you love me hardly” isn’t particularly clever, either. That makes the song seem like a wasted opportunity by pairing a cool groove with weak lyrics.
The kite flying-as-impotence metaphor isn’t the only instance of awkward lyrics on the album. “Shiny Bone”, a nearly six-minute-long mopey ballad, ostensibly tells the story of hard times and a crumbling relationship. But it’s full of mixed woman-as-dog toy or dog owner comparisons. “If you treat me like a dog / Then I’ll always fetch you, ’cause / You’re a shiny bone / Always call me home,” goes the refrain. Then there are also the finishing lines of the song. “Well, I’m thinking about dragging you outside / And I’ll bury you where no one can find / And I’ll dig you up when it’s your time / And maybe then my bone can shine.” Has Pinkston’s protagonist made the jump from being sad about his relationship to contemplating murder, or is he just taking the metaphor in bizarre directions? It wasn’t clear to me, at least.
There are songs here that do work quite well. “Barroom Blues” is a rollicking track that lets the band open up. The guitar leads and honky-tonk piano are a lot of fun, while Pinkston’s vocals and lyrics are strong, as are the backing harmonies. The classic country honky-tonk ballad “Let’s Sit Down” is also very good, putting Pinkston’s crooner tendencies to good use and providing a nice piano feature for keyboardist Will Anderson. Similarly, the gently rolling, harmonica-heavy “Miss Wind Turbine” is simple and effective, anthropomorphizing a clean energy wind tower to great effect.
“Nothin’ New” is the only song on the album that shakes off the easygoing country-rock vibe and tries something else. It’s a minor key, acoustic guitar-driven roots song, with sparse percussion and barely-there pedal steel. The quiet and haunting tone of the music puts Pinkston’s voice in a different context to great effect. Besides being the most barebones arrangement on the album, it’s also the shortest, coming in at under three minutes and not bothering with any guitar solo or bridge. Keeping it stripped down was probably a good call, as “Nothin’ New” is easily the most striking song on the record.
The Pink Stones are clearly a capable band, and having John Neff on board gives them an air of legitimacy in the country-rock arena. But Hunter Pinkston, as the frontman and songwriter, seems like he needs a bit more experience. He hasn’t quite found his voice as a songwriter, which makes Introducing… an uneven listening experience. This kind of band seems like they will improve over time, but they aren’t bringing it right out of the gate.