Album Review – Jon Pardi’s “Mr. Saturday Night”

This Jon Pardi guy must’ve taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque or something. He’s all wrong side up. Doesn’t he understand that the arc of a country music star is to start off real twangy so you get support from the grassroots, and then as soon as you start to blow up a little bit, switch to pop or rock to cash in and say you never liked the way country stifled your creativity anyway, breaking the hearts of your core fans?

Jon Pardi started his career as the slightly more twangy mainstream guy who would still make you wince with his radio singles. Now, he’s more country then many of your favorite Texas and Red Dirt guys, and is having great success with it. He’s not chasing trends, he’s setting them. And the trend he’s setting the pace for right now is playing country music. This isn’t “More country than most of the mainstream.” This is country, period, no qualifier. And due to his continued success, others are being allowed to follow his lead. Pardi is significantly responsible for the return to twang we’ve experienced over the last few years.

Jon Pardi leans on the fiddle in a way we haven’t heard since the Western swing era. And most importantly, radio is playing it. He also shamelessly leans into the country music tradition of the double entendre, uncaring if some consider it hokey. Like Mike & the Moonpies, Midland, and other resurgent honky tonk bands, Jon Pardi and his co-writers embrace the clichés of country music, understanding that they’re evergreen and classic, and deceptively cool, at least to the right audience that knows what country music is supposed to sound like.

No, Mr. Saturday Night is not 14 ringers straight in a row. There’s some fluff and punch-outs here for sure. The thing about double entendres and wordplay is sometimes they just don’t land. “Neon Light Speed” takes a bit of a leap in the writing. So does the collaboration with Midland, “Longneck Way to Go.” When interior California-native Jon Pardi crows, “Smoking a doobie on the Guadalupe” in the next to last song on the album, you wince like it’s a bad dad joke.

But the title track makes you smile with the way the wordplay works, reminding you of all of those old great country songs that twisted the meaning of words in both clever and cutting ways. Though this album is lacking some depth, “Santa Cruz” is more of a sincere moment. “New Place to Drink” it’s just a badass classic ol’ drinking song. And perhaps the best example of the witty wordplay and innuendo on this album is the hilarious, smart, and irreverent “Reverse Cowgirl.” More of this in mainstream country music, please.

Obviously this is not a project of deep introspection. Jon Pardi knows who he is, knows what works, and at this point in his career, he’s been allowed to embrace it. He’s 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’s cutting a radio single like “Last Night Lonely,” the fiddle and twang are right there in the forefront, and it finds the sweet spot that is both country and commercially viable.

Even when the songwriting is silly and simple, the music here is still undeniably country. And even in a few spots where the music turns more contemporary (“Your Heart or Mine” for example) the writing is still country. This album could have very well been 10 songs though, and would have been better off for it. But it’s also got some really excellent tracks not worth overlooking.

Some will still say, “You’ve gone soft, Trig! You would have ripped this six years ago.” Maybe so. Or maybe Jon Pardi has gone hard, and is dragging mainstream country with him. This isn’t 2016 Jon Pardi either, and this isn’t 2016 mainstream country music. Country is now more country, and we have Jon Pardi in large part to thank for it.

1 1/2 Guns Up (7.6 of 10)

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