Jon Pardi joins country’s party
A good number of the people around Jon Pardi refer to him using only his last name.
So perhaps the young country singer was merely living up to expectations when he put some rip-roaring party songs on his debut album: “Empty Beer Cans,” “Trash a Hotel Room” and the top 10 hit “Up All Night,” in which he and a lady friend visit the quick stop for “some jerky and a 12-pack” on their way to a midnight swim.
“I have a hard time singing slow songs, man,” Pardi admitted recently. “I wanna make the girls dance and sing along.”
He’s not the only one. Nashville is teeming with youthful party-starters cranking out what’s known as “bro country”: up-tempo tunes with arena-rock guitars, hip-hop-inspired beats and words about tailgates and tan lines, to borrow the title of an album by one of the style’s biggest stars, Luke Bryan.
But if Pardi embodies some of the same attitudes as Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line, the California native also stands apart from his fellow bros. On his album “Write You a Song,” which came out to strong reviews in January, Pardi, 29, borrows less from Bon Jovi than from Buck Owens, the influential country star credited with creating the hard-driving Bakersfield sound.
There’s a sly self-awareness to his carousing, as in the album’s title track, which promises to commemorate a one-night stand with a song the woman might eventually hear on the radio. And though Pardi claims to have trouble with ballads, he shows off a deeply tender streak in cuts like “That Man,” about a friendship turning tentatively into something more.
The result is one of the year’s best country albums, and one of the most believably dynamic too, with a range of feeling that can recall music by Randy Travis and Alan Jackson — stars from an era before Nashville began marketing its artists as precisely (and sometimes as narrowly) as the industry does today.
“When Pardi sings, he doesn’t hold anything back,” said Bart Butler, who co-produced “Write You a Song” with the singer and has also worked with Tim McGraw and Dierks Bentley. In the studio, Butler added, he and Pardi used fiddle and pedal steel, sweeteners from the age of classic country, but also emphasized the singer’s “honky tonk swagger — that undeniable rawness” missing from so many polished country hits.
“We knew we wanted to do our own thing,” said the producer.
That meant a relatively slow climb for Pardi, who grew up in the small town of Dixon, not far from Sacramento, where he started playing guitar at the age of 9 and wrote his first song at 12. After high school he “tried college,” then moved to Chico and played in a band that flamed out after the drummer realized they weren’t making any money. Back home working part-time for his father leveling land for a nursery in nearby Winters, Pardi saved up $7,000 and set a date — Feb. 23, 2008 — to move to Nashville and try out a solo career.
“The first six months were really hard,” he said backstage after his performance at April’s Stagecoach Festival in Indio. But soon he found a bar he liked — it’s called Losers — and scored a gig playing there on weekends. A publishing deal followed, then a record deal. And that’s when the real work began: touring the country, playing clubs every night and building an audience one fan at a time.
“I just went everywhere and got in people’s faces,” he said. In fact, he still is: After he wraps his current tour opening for Bentley — they’re set to play the Greek Theatre on Friday — he’ll play another round of club shows this fall.
“It’s not a normal life,” he said with a laugh. “I mean, we’re basically traveling carnies.”
Yet at a moment when an act can disappear as quickly as its viral single, Pardi’s old-fashioned approach is helping to secure a long-term career, said Cindy Mabe, president of Universal Music Group Nashville, which includes Pardi’s label, Capitol.
“It’s not the easiest route, but it’s how you build real momentum,” Mabe said. She added that Eric Church — whose latest album is the year’s biggest-selling country disc so far — developed his audience the same way.
And anyway, Pardi reasoned, all the travel just provides fodder for more songs. At Stagecoach he said he’d recently written a new one after a trip to San Antonio.
“It’s called ‘Beer Tub Girl,’ because the beer tub girls there are always so hot,” he explained. Then he paused for a split-second, as though he could imagine the tune on a Luke Bryan record. “I don’t know if it’ll make the next album. We’ll see. I’ve got this shuffle I’m writing too.”
Dierks Bentley with Chris Young, Chase Rice, Jon Pardi
Where: Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave.
When: 7 p.m. Friday
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