One listen to Jon Pardi's 2014 debut Write You A Song and you immediately get why the California native felt so at home in the rockin' Texas country scene.
His charismatic voice has a hint of Stoney LaRue and the music is buoyed by raucous crunchy guitars padded with the occasional lap steel and piano. He wasn't a "Texas country" artist by nature, but Texas welcomed him with open arms, even as he toured nationally with Dierks Bentley, Alan Jackson and the like.
Of course, Pardi also has bigger fish to fry (and Texas is a pretty big fish). The success of his most recent single "Head Over Boots," which currently sits at No. 2 on the Country Airplay charts, signifies that it's just a matter of time before Pardi breaks out nationally.
But if California Sunset is any indication, he's sticking with the sound that got him this far. In fact, "Head Over Boots" is probably the biggest departure you'll hear from his first record, which is to say, not much departure at all.
The record itself sounds very lush. It's well recorded, and Pardi's vocal, which has always relied more on delivery and style than technical proficiency, is front and center. It sits nicely on a full bed of crunchy guitars with the occasionally well-placed fiddle, synth, or steel part. California Sunsets is certainly a step up in deliberate production.
Pretty much every song focuses thematically on a relationship. More often than not that relationship is with a girl, though there's the occasional tune about writing music (album opener "Out of Style") or the popular-of-late "blow all our money" anthem (the quirky "Paycheck," laced with some inventive guitar parts and sing-along verses).
For the most part, the lyrics and rhymes feel pretty obvious. There are the usual references to women as songs, women as drugs, women as wistful memories. Most of the songs explore common feelings in a common way, which means Pardi has to rely once again on his attitude and arrangement to make the song stand out. And thankfully, a few tracks do.
"She Ain't In It" may be one of the finest examples of writing on the record. It was written by Clint Daniels and Wynn Varble (who wrote many tunes for Darryl Worley as well as "Waitin' On A Woman" for Brad Paisley), so it makes sense that it's one of the most sincere songs on the record.
Melodically, Pardi seems to be borrowing more than once from 90s pop and early 00s rock. "Dirt On My Boots" is a perfect example. But for as rocking and rowdy as Pardi can be, he still has a throwback feel. Maybe it's the slide guitar or the fiddle, or maybe it's because as much as Pardi hits every country trope, his delivery and persona still make it feel believable. At least more believable than others.
If you were a fan of Pardi before, you'll be very happy. If you just got turned onto him by "Head Over Boots," give him a shot and he just might make you a believer. He may not usher in a new era of country music, but he's certainly not sophomore slumping.