Song Review – Jon Pardi’s “Ain’t Always The Cowboy”

Jon Pardi continues to prove himself as one of the most staunch traditionalists in the country mainstream, and though you can be assured that his upcoming record Heartache Medication will have a handful of songs that will pander to radio play, his latest release from the album “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” will not be one of them. Pardi has been promising the new record out September 27th will be even more twangy than its predecessors, and so far has words have rung true, and so have the songs released as precursors.

“Ain’t Always The Cowboy” was written by Brandon Kinney, along with semi-retired performer Josh Thompson, who continues to prove he’s one of the hottest hands in quality country music songwriting. Juxtaposing the stereotypical perspective of the man always being the one who can’t let his heartstrings tie him down as he gallops off into the sunset like the picturesque conclusion of a Western movie, “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” places the woman as the one who needs to let her wild horses run free.

Dissimilar to the often sappy and transparent odes to women that are permeating popular music at the moment with their odoriferous platitudes that are nothing more than pandering to popular sentiment as opposed to saying something truly important or telling a story, “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” offers something for both men and women to find affinity with.

The soul in the song is not just born through the unique role reversal. It’s how the protagonist carries this sad, but accepting, and almost envious sentiment as the restless cowgirl goes slipping through his hands like the dry dirt of a parched pasture, admiring her enough to not want to burden her down, even if this conclusion comes with a sincere feeling of heartache and longing. It’s the whole “Love something enough to let it go” sentiment done in story form, and done well. The vulnerability expressed by the woman also makes it feel more like reality as opposed to formulated melodrama.

Just like the first song Pardi released from the new album—the plucky and alcohol-fueled “Heartache Medication” title track—“Ain’t Always The Cowboy” begins with the fiddle, and finds moments for the steel guitar to work itself significantly into the mix. Unlike “Heartache Medication” though, the chorus of “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” is not as clunky and elongated like it’s having a hard time finding where to land. Instead the melody soars, and really draws the emotion out of the lyric, giving “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” a pleasing arc of mood and message.

The guitar solo is the one soft patch of the song. It’s way too steeped in rock tone for the style of the rest of the tune, only rescued by its welcomed brevity. And despite the “Chevrolet” reference that perhaps couldn’t be avoided to make the line work, “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” avoids all the muddy, well-worn ruts of mainstream songwriting that gunk up the sideboards with cliche. As a cowboy from the West where many restless souls end up in the short or long term, “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” works for the personality Jon Pardi presents in his music, even if it’s not born from his own pen like most of the tracks from the new album.

“Heartache Medication” is the new single being worked to radio from Jon Pardi’s upcoming record, and “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” may not be anything more than an album cut. But it continues to build anticipation behind this new Pardi project, and behind Pardi himself as one of a gaggle of more traditionally-oriented major label artists finding deserved traction in the mainstream. Country is starting to sound country again, and Jon Pardi is a big part of the reason.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)