Jon Pardi describes his sound not as a throwback, but the forging of a “different era” of traditional country music. He began this journey on his breakthrough 2016 album California Sunrise and continues the saga on his new album, Heartache Medication. The anticipated third studio release finds Pardi continuing to operate in his lane of traditional country, the 14-track installment filled with the pure sounds of steel guitar and fiddle and lyrics that identify the light in life’s somber moments.
The album opens with thumping drums and a sunny, Jimmy Buffett-style guitar lick on “Old Hat,” an homage to the chivalry of the past that honors such traditions as sealing a deal with a handshake, making promises one can keep and remembering where your roots are, Pardi tipping his hat to the fact that he and many others are still loyal to these values. This leads into the title track that serves as the heart of the album – centered around a heartbroken man curing his misery not with anger or spite, but a glass of something strong – before delivering three of the album’s best numbers, beginning with “Ain’t Always the Cowboy.” The song anchored by fiddle and steel guitar flips the narrative of a restless cowboy and pins it to the woman he loves who knows that breaking up is the right decision, leaving him to watch her taillights disappear in the dust. “I’ve never seen over from this side / never heard lonely get this quiet / still I can’t keep from smiling / cause damn that girl can fly,” Pardi sings, driving home the album’s theme that recognizes beauty in sadness.
Meanwhile, the lively “Me and Jack” has Pardi humorously chronicling how he struck up a friendship with Jack Daniels, one that quickly devolves from harmless fun to wild debauchery. Between getting him fired and ruining his relationship to landing him in jail, the uptempo number serves as the album’s comic relief as Pardi chants over a rollicking, Johnny Cash-like melody, “he’s high up on the shelf / while I’m lying on the floor/ he makes me do things I never done before / should’ve left his ass at the liquor store / no me and jack don’t get along no more.” The singer comes back down to earth with the sobering “Don’t Blame it on Whiskey,” the Miranda Lambert and Eric Church penned ballad that sees him and duet partner Lauren Alaina as a couple willing to take an honest look at their relationship. Realizing that alcohol is merely a band-aid for the deeper issues that are leading them toward heartbreak, the two are taking responsibility for their own actions that caused it, their plaintive delivery evoking the emotion of the lyrics.
As naturally as he acknowledges heartbreak, the 2018 CMA New Artist of the Year can also party with the best of them, venturing on a streak of celebratory songs including “Tied One On,” reminiscent of Brad Paisley’s “I’m Gonna Miss Her” where he chooses his rowdy ways over the woman who can’t accept his country lifestyle, while the blusey “Oughta Know That” has the singer owning up to the fact that he’ll always be the one to keep a good time rolling. He infuses a mariachi flair into “Tequila Little Time,” using play-on-words to wash a woman’s tears away along with a little salt, lime and tequila. Pardi’s tactics do the trick, as he has her smiling and dancing by song’s end.
The hit maker brings the album full circle with the piano, steel guitar and fiddle-driven ballad “Just Like Old Times” where he runs into an ex he still has feelings for. Rather than greeting each other with bitterness from the past, both are willing to let their guards down and see if the connection is still there, open to the idea of starting anew. Pardi ends the project on a heartfelt note with the bluegrass inspired “Starlight.” Serving as a tribute to loved ones that have passed on, the song is filled with hope, wonder and admiration. He humbly nods to the good that die young, the heroes who fought and died for our freedom and above all, the personal champions that have shaped his life. “All the heroes in my heart, that taught me to believe / and that’s why I believe in things I can’t see / got you shining down on me / showing me the way / angel in the night / here to save the day / like a light out of the dark / straight across the sky / up there in that starlight,” he sings, bringing the album back to its core.
Heartache Medication marks progression for Pardi, as he takes the beloved elements of traditional country music that enamored fans on California Sunrise and uniting them with richer emotions that show how positivity can stem from sadness, sending the listener off with a sense of peace.