Nobody’s talking about it, but Jon Pardi is quickly developing into a serious modern country star. His latest record California Sunrise was released now over two years ago, and aside from Chris Stapleton’s Traveller, it’s been one of the most perennial titles on the Billboard Country Albums chart Top 15 over that time period. There are stadium acts that haven’t sold 250,000 copies of their latest record like Jon Pardi has (see Kenny Chesney’s Cosmic Hallelujah).
It’s for these reasons that Capitol Nashville has decided to release a 5th single from the record, which is a feat and a victory for any album in itself. A 5th single means a label perceives continued strength from a title and an artist, and a willingness to continue to invest time and money in promoting them. “Night Shift” will try to bridge the gap between California Sunrise, and whatever new music Jon Pardi has planned, which has to be in the works at this point now two years removed from his last release.
There is a touch of grey in the silver lining though. Pardi’s last single “She Ain’t In It” had traditional country fans singing the praises of Pardi and his label for showing leadership for putting such a traditional song on the radio. To many, it was clearly the best song from the California Sunrise set. But it stalled out just outside the Top 20 on the charts, signaling that even though Pardi’s popularity is on the rise, radio is still soft on singles that don’t adhere to the latest trends. As a fourth single, it was worth throwing it out there as a wild card. The fact that it got to #21 could still be an important stepping stone.
“Night Shift” may not fare much better in such a crowded market for new singles at the moment, and it may not be nearly as traditional as “She Ain’t In It.” But it is indicative of the important place Jon Pardi inhabits in mainstream country. Don’t shake your head that Pardi is out there on tour right now with Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt. Be happy that at least someone who knows how to pick out a cowboy hat and a pair of Wranglers is representing country on what is supposed to be a “country” tour. Let those fans be exposed to a little actual country music culture. Perhaps they’ll like what they hear, and go searching for more.
The promise in Pardi is not that he’ll be the next George Jones. But he could be the next Dierks Bentley, though an even more twangy version—helping to bridge the gap between contemporary and traditional, and offering the mainstream masses a healthier alternative. “Night Shift” most certainly falls into that categorization, with prominent fiddle right beside the lead guitar, and some steel tones working into a robust chorus hard not to find appeal in. The song ends with a guitar solo, which is about as rare as steel and fiddle itself these days.
Written by Tofer Brown, Phillip LaRue, and Billy Montana, the lyrics of “Night Shift” are pretty stock, but the idea of working 60 hours a week, yet saving enough energy for keeping the flames of desire alive at home is the kind of blue collar story indicative of actual country music, and can’t be overdone. This is Jon Pardi doing what Jon Pardi does, which is keeping it a little bit safe, but also keeping it distinctly country. It’s not too far off from the sensibility of some of Alan Jackson’s radio material during his heyday.
If you try to appeal to both the traditional and contemporary, you run the risk of not appealing to either. We know Jon Pardi is a traditionalist, even if he also has the natural desire to have a successful career, and be heard. He sells actual records like more traditional and independent artists do, and it also means he is appealing to an older crowd, as well as the younger audience on radio where he’s found success. You get the sense Pardi is still developing, and his next record could break either way. But for now, he’s content straddling the lines between both country worlds, and has found surprising success doing it. A song like “Night Shift” is exemplary of that.