On the cover of his 2014 debut, Write You a Song, Jon Pardi seemed a bit like a metrosexual country boy but on California Sunrise,
its 2016 sequel, he’s decked out like an old-school cowboy, complete
with a big hat and blue jeans. This is the major change in image, but
the music on California Sunrise isn’t markedly different than the debut. Like the high-octane Write You a Song before it, California Sunrise is produced by Bart Butler,
but the album finds space for softer tones and slower tempos, a shift
that opens the doors for a little experimentation with rhythms.
“Heartache on the Dance Floor” bears a bit of R&B-friendly AAA pop
sheen, and at its core “Lucky Tonight” is a soul song all gussied up
with fiddles and blues guitar. A few other cuts are light on their feet
— “Head Over Boots” rolls along with its singalong chorus, “Cowboy Hat”
trades upon the leering twilight of bro-country — but California Sunrise remains grounded in sinewy, straight-ahead country, sometimes delivered by Pardi
with a sly grin. Perhaps his cheer is a bit subdued — his everyday
persona can work against him, suggesting that he’s not much more than a
guy next door — but this workingman’s diligence is a key element in
turning California Sunrise into a frills-free, sturdily crafted collection.
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