That Jon Pardi guy must have taken a wrong turn in Albuquerque or something. He’s on the wrong side. Doesn’t he understand that the arc of a country music star is to start out really twangy in order to get grassroots support and then as soon as you start to explode a bit go pop or rock to cash in and say you never liked the way country stifled your creativity, breaking the hearts of your core fans?
Jon Pardi started his career as a slightly more twangy traditional guy who would still make you cringe with his radio singles. Now he’s more country than a lot of your favorite guys from Texas and Red Dirt, and he’s got a lot going for it. He doesn’t chase trends, he sets them. And the trend he’s setting the tone for right now is playing country music. It’s not “more country than most mainstream media”. It is the country, the period, no qualifier. And because of his continued success, others are allowed to follow his lead. Pardi is largely responsible for the return to the twang we’ve seen in recent years.
Jon Pardi leans on the fiddle in a way we haven’t heard since the western swing era. And above all, the radio plays it. He also leans unapologetically into the tradition of two-way country music, unconcerned if some consider him hokey. Like Mike & the Moonpies, Midland and other reborn honky tonk bands, Jon Pardi and his co-writers embrace country music clichés, understanding that they’re persistent and classic, and deceptively cool, at least for the good. audience that knows what country music is supposed to sound like.
Nope, Mr Saturday night is not 14 rings in a row. There are fluff and punches here for sure. The problem with double meanings and puns is that sometimes they just don’t land. “Neon Light Speed” takes a small leap in writing. The same goes for the collaboration with Midland, “Longneck Way to Go”. When Inland California native Jon Pardi sings “Smoking a doobie on the Guadalupe” on the album’s penultimate song, you wince like it’s a bad dad joke.
But the title track makes you smile with the way the pun works, reminding you of all those great old country songs that twisted the meaning of words in both clever and sharp ways. Although this album lacks a bit of depth, “Santa Cruz” is more of a heartfelt moment. “New Place to Drink” is just a classic drinking song. And perhaps the best example of the witty wordplay and innuendo on this album is the hilarious, clever, and irreverent “Reverse Cowgirl.” More of that in traditional country music, please.
This is obviously not a project of deep introspection. Jon Pardi knows who he is, knows what works, and at this point in his career he was allowed to embrace it. He is the life of the Pardi (yuck, yuck), turning heartbreak into a good time, both in his songs and in real life. And even when he cuts a radio single like “Last Night Lonely,” the fiddle and twang are front and center, and he finds the sweet spot that’s both country and commercially viable.
Even when the songwriting is silly and simple, the music here is still undeniably country. And even in some places where the music becomes more contemporary (“Your Heart or Mine” for example) the writing remains country. This album could very well have contained 10 songs, and would have been better for that. But there are also some really excellent tracks that aren’t worth overlooking.
Some will still say, “You’ve gone limp, Trig!” You would have torn this up six years ago. Maybe. Or maybe Jon Pardi has gone hard and is taking traditional country with him. It’s not 2016’s Jon Pardi either, and it’s not mainstream 2016 country music. Country is more country now, and we have Jon Pardi in large part to thank for that.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7.6 out of 10)
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