If you’re a male performer and signed to a country music major label, you better hope you got the memo. Better get yourself fitted for a three-piece suit pronto, take some dance lessons, and get your falsetto tuned up so you can do your best Bruno Mars impression because otherwise your masters might be sitting on a shelf while you’re sitting out on the street. This Metro-Bro business is a take-no-prisoners kind of phenomenon and it’s either acquiesce or get rolled.
Country traditionalist and Capitol Nashville-signed singer and songwriter Jon Pardi is right there in the sweet spot where the machine could suck him in and make him yet another casualty of country music’s latest scourge. He’s 30-years-old, has only released one record, had some success but is still enough of an unknown quantity that he could go though an image overhaul, hang up the cowby hat, and come out singing regurgitated disco hits. That’s just about how things are going these days, and with some of the artists you’d least expect.
The situation with Jon Pardi appeared even more dicey when the word got out that he and his producer Bart Butler were feeling pressure from the label to deliver something they could sell to today’s radio listeners. This is usually where the narrative goes south. Pardi was paired up with Luke Laird—one of Nashville’s exclusive songwriters in the increasingly-insular songwriting environment. Pardi needed a lead single for his second upcoming album, and it needed to be something that sticks. This all was a recipe for Jon Pardi fans to get stabbed in the heart like so many of the fans of other lower-tier major-signed country artists recently.
But I’m happy to report that everything turned out okay. If “Head Over Boots” is as bad as Jon Pardi’s sophomore album gets, then were in pretty damn good shape.
“Head Over Boots” is not a great song, but it’s country, and it’s Jon Pardi, and it suits the ears just fine. The key for Pardi and Laird was to put something together that was positive in nature, but still native to Pardi’s sound, and something still traditional enough to delineate Pardi from radio peers. So they headed to the dance halls of Texas for inspiration, and “Head Over Boots” sure enough conjures up that warm feeling of Gruene Hall in the fall, and the vibe of Texas-style country—sensible but more substantive.
“Head Over Boots” is a great vessel for Jon Pardi’s tone, and the Telecaster solo is quite tasty, giving off that Pete Anderson, early Dwight Yoakam vibe. Fiddle and steel guitar are also present, but not so overbearing that it will ruin the song’s chances at radio. At its heart, “Head Over Boots” is a simple love song.
It’s not going to set the world on fire, and it may struggle at radio from its traditional-leaning sound. But most importantly, it proves to us that Pardi will not be the next positive country role model to fall to the forces of disco country. Perhaps with Mo Pitney, Chris Stapleton, and a gaggle of other emerging traditionalists, there’s still hope for country yet.