Album Review – Jonathan Parker’s “Broken Hearts & Broken Bones”

If you’ve landed upon this dark corner of the internet, chances are you’ve long since been disillusioned with the idea that popularity in any way parallels quality when it comes to music, especially in the country realm. Rarely if ever does the cream rise to the top in this dismal era, and those looking for the most potent offerings must go slashing through backwoods, hiking up hollers, and wading through swamps—at least metaphorically speaking—to find those still testifying true and holding to those old time roots and traditions.

If your trek led you to North Carolina and the moonshining swamps of Johnston County, and you rooted around in the honky tonks or queried the locals where to turn for the best country music from the region, Jonathan Park is probably who would be the leading vote getter. Tell of his honky tonk powers may have yet to make it much past the Tar Heel state, but those who know the name hold true to their allegiance to their hometown boy.

Now peddling his fourth studio record called Broken Hearts and Broken Bones, Jonathan Parker puts forth one incredible specimen of traditional country with an Outlaw kick that will immediately start your heart to pounding and your legs to twitching with those fine sounds of steel guitar, bass drum, fiddle, and twang to where you known you’ve landed in the right place. If you want a how-to of how best to fashion a modern honky tonk Outlaw record in the modern era, start with Broken Hearts and Broken Bones and work your way back from there.

Parker’s singing tone may take some getting used to for certain ears. It’s not classically beautiful, like George Jones or Dwight Yoakam or something. It’s a more worn-in voice, with a shaky warble like a broken hearted man you might run into on a street corner trying to bum seven dollars. It may not be pretty, but it’s that “lived it” peculiarity that makes his songs so believable.

Parker has always been well-regarded by anyone lucky enough to stumble upon his records and has good taste in true country, in Cackalacky or elsewhere. But it’s more Parker’s traditional style than his songwriting that draws you in. The same way he emulates his heroes with the music, he does so with his writing as well, meaning it’s often more interpretive than original. That’s still true for Broken Hearts and Broken Bones, but you can tell he put the extra time and elevated his game on this one to capture themes that hit hard.

“Running Out of Reasons” and “What Losing Could Be” reach another level in Parker’s writing, making this record a really good entry point into his catalog. Meanwhile in the murderous “Thelma Jean” and “If You Don’t,” Parker shows off a little bit of a 70’s funky country side, adding some good spice and variety to the record.

Country music to it’s core and uncompromising in this capacity, Jonathan Parker always finds the best pickers and players possible to put music and vision behind his work. The influence and effort is regional in scope, but the appeal is international, as long as you find actual country music appealing, of which Broken Hearts and Broken Bones has plenty of.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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