The fight to save country music in the mainstream is a fight that has been going on for several years by now. A lot of our soldiers have been seen conflicts with their major labels, some have been cast aside by radio, and some have gone all Benedict Arnold on us. They say you can’t be country if you want to succeed in mainstream country music, and if that’s not the most convoluted statement you’ve ever heard then I don’t know what is.
If there’s been any instances of retaliation, it’s come from our younger artists. William Michael Morgan, Kacey Musgraves, and Maddie and Tae have all shown tremendous promise through their debut albums and a guy like Mo Pitney has shown that he’s the real deal in the few songs he’s released thus far. The problem is that none of these artists have exactly been treated too kindly by radio lately. However there’s one artist who has seemed to find the magical formula of scoring a hit with a song that actually sounds like country music – Jon Pardi.
So here comes the hard part of this review. This is probably the weirdest review I’ve ever done seeing as how I think it’s more important to talk about events surrounding California Sunrise than the actual album. Let me preface this by saying that I am still a huge Jon supporter and I think he’s definitely one of the good guys in this fight. Anyone who walks away from this review thinking otherwise is wrong.
But I have to admit, I’m a little underwhelmed by California Sunrise. It’s by no means a bad album, and will still probably be considered one of the better mainstream albums of this year, but it’s a very safe record. It’s painful watching some of the compromises take place here. You can tell that Jon is doing his best to make sure every one of these songs has some type of country element. The problem is that you can also tell where the label sunk their teeth in as well, seeing as most of these tracks are radio-ready tracks that, while not bad are just alright.
“Out Of Style” leads the album off and right away you want to stand up and applaud Jon not only for the sound, but also for lyrics that reference not willing to sell out for trends. Then we get to tracks like “Cowboy Hat”, the lead single and “Night Shift” and there’s really not much to say about them. Their sound is good but the lyrics are lackluster. The worst examples of this compromise however come with “Dirt On My Boots”, “All Time High”, “Heartache On The Dance Floor”. The former could have been cut with Jason Aldean or Luke Bryan except this hip-hop like song actually has some country instrumentation in it. “All Time High” continues the “your love is my drug” cliché and “Heartache On The Dance Floor” mixes a disco beat with fiddle. Yeah, not a good combination. And you know what? Bless Jon Pardi for caring enough to make even the worst songs here at least sound country. It doesn’t go unnoticed.
You can tell where this guy’s heart is, and California Sunrise is not a complete compromised album. “She Ain’t In It” isn’t just one of the best songs you’ll hear in the mainstream this year, it’s one of the best songs this year, period. It’s a hard hitting tune about heartbreak complete with heavenly pedal steel and fiddle that would make someone such as George Strait smile. You can tell that Jon wants to record more songs like this. The album ends with a bang with the title track which actually does what country music is supposed to do and tell a story. The instrumentation on this album is certainly consistently good on this album, but it’s arguably at its best here. And despite the repetitive nature of “Can’t Turn You Down” there’s at least a sincere vocal performance from Jon that I can get believe.
All in all, this really isn’t as bad as I’ve made it out to be. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed by the overall effort but you know, we need guys like Jon Pardi in country music. He does something that most mainstream artists have forgotten to do over the years and that’s actually care about the traditions of country music. If you find more to enjoy then hey, more power to you. Not everything works for me but hey, this ain’t half bad at all.