Jon Pardi Surprises & Pays Tribute w/ “Rancho Fiesta Sessions”

There once was a time in country music when you couldn’t even consider receiving a record deal, or a slot on a major tour, or radio play, or a Grand Ole Opry berth until you put in untold hours cutting your teeth on country music classics and cultivating your chops. For many of today’s country stars, they couldn’t fathom having to put in 5,000 hours in honky tonks before receiving catering before every performance. But for interior California’s Jon Pardi, those days of paying tribute never ended.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Jon Pardi is one of the few new mainstream stars who can rattle off a handful of country classics at a moments notice. He’s about as traditional as mainstream country gets. Hell most of today’s radio stars have little to no idea who Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, or the late great Joe Diffie even are, let alone can light into songs from their repertoire at a moment’s notice. But leave it to Pardi to pay tribute to these legends, along with George Strait, Keith Whitley, and even Tom Petty and Prince on his surprise album, Rancho Fiesta Sessions.

Keep your expectations in line with the spirit of the project, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what this little eight-song release has in store. Produced by Pardi himself, and recorded during a one-night live jam session with his touring band at his home in Nashville (a.k.a. “Rancho Fiesta”), it certainly captures some rough and rowdy moments with of a bunch of guys just hanging out, cracking beers, and careening in and out of the cuts they love to play when they get to play what they want.

Rancho Fiesta Sessions is another COVID-19 special, meaning it was recorded to keep Pardi and his crew from going crazy, and to remind you they’re still around since the quarantine is keeping them off the stage. We’ve received plenty of these releases lately, and few if any of them are anything spectacular. But you can’t judge them beside proper studio releases where years are spent vetting and refining songs before recording them in a major studio. This is a screw off, and that comes through in some of the audio quality, and the (lack of) seriousness brought to the effort. But that’s also what’s cool about it, because it captures Pardi and the boys in their element without any pretense, overdubs, or bullshit.

Jon Pardi fans will be more than happy to finally have proper recordings of his take on Merle’s “The Bottle Let Me Down,” and Dwight’s “Honky Tonk Man”—two fellow Californians that critically influenced a young kid from the small town of Dixon. In fact if you’re a Pardi fan exclusively, you’ll find little to complain about. You were just gifted an unexpected album from one of your favorite artists, covering some of your other favorite artists. Life is good.

But some of the criticisms that have hounded Pardi since the beginning about the lack of distinctness and presence with his voice won’t be helped by the bad acoustics and poor mix the live room resulted in on Rancho Fiesta Sessions, while his cynics will wonder why they need another version of “Marina Del Ray,” and why he’s going anywhere near a song once recorded by Sinead O’Connor.

But this record isn’t for them anyway. It’s for the hardcore Jon Pardi fans to tide them over until life returns to normal. And not just with COVID-19, but the new streaming model that compels and in some ways necessitates artists continue to release music on a regular basis, don’t be surprised if we see more and more of these kinds of releases in the future. It’s also Pardi paying tribute to his heroes, which nobody should get in the way of.

But maybe mostly importantly, Rancho Fiesta Sessions is for Jon Pardi himself, and his band, to have a little fun, to blow off a little COVID steam, and keep from going crazy. They just allowed the rest of us to peer in and join the party. (Or “Pardi”? No, let’s not go there.)

1 1/2 Guns Up

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