Country Jukebox Jury LP: Jon Pardi – Mr Saturday Night

It does look likely that Jon Pardi will tour his fourth album around Europe. He has spent a decade hoicking himself across America with his good-time country music, playing songs about boots written by A-Listers like Rhett Akins. His last album Heartache Medication contained plenty of fiddle from Jenee Fleenor and a voice that would fit well in a playlist alongside both Nashville acts like Luke Combs and Texan acts like Parker McCollum and Cody Johnson.

Pardi, from California, has played it perfectly. While various boys from Florida, Georgia and Tennessee were hopping on the hiphop trend, Pardi kept things traditional from the cowboy hat to the Mariachi horns on the lost classic Tequila Little Time. There is of course space for everything in the church of country music, but Pardi respects what his forebears have done. He also knows his rock, as he showed with an extraordinary cover of the Tom Petty song The Waiting which was one of eight tracks on a covers EP which also featured tunes by George Strait, Merle Haggard and Prince (Nothing Compares 2 U).

Mr Saturday Night emerges in the Combs/Wallen Era and Capitol Nashville are putting money behind their guy. The title track, which also begins the album, shows how confident Jon is in his writing, punning on ‘mister/missed her’ and putting tears in his beer from the first minute. He then asks for some beer on Fill Er Up, so he can ‘cut loose’. He is joined by what must be Paul Franklin’s pedal steel on a honky-tonker of the sort Travis Tritt and Ronnie Dunn sung in 1995.

The two radio hits have been expertly chosen. Last Night Lonely had three chords and a feelgood lyric, just like his song Night Shift, while the Midland collaboration Longneck Way To Go (co-written with Rhett Akins!) fulfilled the promise of its title and is a perfect way to kick off the album’s second side. It also begins with the chorus.

Pardi has a habit of doing this. He does it on both Fill Er Up and New Place To Drink too. The latter tune was one of four on the album written with the great Luke Laird. The others are: Workin’ on a New One, a song about hangovers which is built on one of Luke’s famous loops; reminiscin’ song Santa Cruz, which was written in 2018 and has finally seen the light of day; and the carefree Smokin’ A Doobie, co-written with Rhett Akins, who must have been responsible for introducing cypress trees into the second verse and ‘some Hill Country healing’. This will sound lovely alongside Tequila Little Time when Pardi comes over to the UK, perhaps as soon as March if he can make the calendar work.

As is typical on a major-label release, Pardi has picked plenty of tunes written by the best in town off the shelf, such as Last Night Lonely. Paul DiGiovanni, who produces the music of Dan + Shay and Jordan Davis, wrote Neon Light Speed which sounds just like the slow dances it will surely soundtrack. Naturally, ‘Brooks & Dunn are on the ‘box’ and there are ‘disco ball stars’ lighting up the juke joint. It’s a winner. The funky next single Your Heart or Mine and The Day I Stop Dancin’, a forever love song with the line ‘when Texas runs outta Strait’, were co-written by his producer Bart Butler, who deserves credit for getting the Pardi Sound right. He is the Dean Dillon to Pardi’s King George, the Buddy Cannon to Pardi’s Willie.

Jameson Rodgers was in the room for Hung The Moon, on which the ‘long lost desperado’ sings of how he’s an outlaw who met an angel who has no idea of his redneck ‘reckless’ past. Morgan Wallen could have sold this one too, but Pardi adds some Fleenor fiddle. Michael Tyler is one of three writers behind Raincheck, another ‘tear in beer’ tune on which the protagonist wants a ‘raincheck on moving on’, which is a Nashville writers’ room way of saying ‘can we still be friends?’

The final track on the album is, rather brilliantly, called Reverse Cowgirl. It’s obviously not about that, because it’s a song on a mainstream country release. Listen out for backing vocals from one of the town’s secret weapons, Sarah Buxton. I can just imagine Pardi’s face when he saw that title in his inbox, then his delight at hearing the heartbreak narrative where the narrator wants his former beloved to ‘put that thing in reverse, cowgirl’. Again, Nashville is a city where you say familiar things in novel ways with guys in cowboy hats selling the sizzle.

There’s plenty of sizzle in this album. We’ll go wild for him if – or, rather, when – he finally makes it over to London.

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