Jon Pardi might be one of the performers we love to point at as being a party to repatriating mainstream country music with more palatable material as part of a new wave of traditional-leaning young talent, but as his new single proves, the effort to save country music is sometimes an imperfect one.
“Dirt On My Boots,” is possibly the worst song on Jon Pardi’s otherwise solid, but commercially pragmatic album California Sunrise, so of course some A&R lackey at Capitol Nashville figured it would be perfect for Pardi’s second single from the record.
Though banjo and fiddle can be heard on the track, so can the undeniable thump of electronically-generated drums and a blaring lead guitar more indicative of the arena rock world than country, making your country music mind short circuit from not knowing how to slate the song. Sonically, the problem with “Dirt On My Boots” is it’s neither here nor there.
Knowing the demographic that generally adheres to Jon Pardi fandom, they didn’t want to go full Sam Hunt on the song and tried to make sure there was something there to perk the ears of true country listeners, but this “neither fish nor foul” approach results in a song that feels confused and disjointed, and ultimately may not appeal to either the Pardianimals, or the passive pop country fans who otherwise find more contemporary sounds fetching.
Unfortunately no redemption can be found in the lyricism of “Dirt On My Boots”—it might be the song’s biggest offense. Construed by Rhett Akins, Jesse Frasure, and Ashley Gorley (it’s one of the few songs from California Sunrise that Pardi didn’t co-write), it’s basically about picking up a girl and hitting the town, then taking her home like just about every other pop country single by a male performer currently on the mainstream radio market.
Especially troubling are buzzlines such as “Gonna hit the club” and the urbanized annunciation of lines like “They gonna shine with you up inside” (about Pardi’s muddy tires, of course). Just like the music, the lyrics of “Dirt On My Boots” try to attract both country rats and city rats, but ultimately clash like a farm truck being parked valet, and may send both sets of listeners scattering. The song is also unflattering to Pardi’s vocal tone and range. But of course with the right promotional budget, anything is possible on corporate country radio, especially since Pardi has a new tour coming up with Dierks Bentley to peddle.
Pardi is better than this, and there’s plenty of evidence on California Sunrise to prove that hypothesis. But country music is still a business, and Rome was not built or torn down in a day. “Dirt On My Boots” does not significantly change Jon Pardi’s status as more part of the solution than the problem in country, especially after a Billboard article reveals he resisted the song being released as a single. But it is a misstep, and will make it more difficult to convert the naysayers to the Pardi camp.