Jon Pardi hopes his third studio album Heartache Medication, out Sept. 27, makes listeners feel better. The country singer, who co-wrote half the album (and served as co-producer, alongside Bart Butler and Ryan Gore), says the project’s 14 tracks all tie into the overarching theme heard within the album’s title track.
“They’re all these fun songs that make you feel better,” he tells Billboard over the phone from his home in Nashville. “If they’re a little slower, they still make you feel really good. That’s why we played it off the medication thing: we want to do songs that make you feel good, make you want to have a drink, do a little dancing or just cry it out.”
Throughout the project, Pardi blends his love for traditional country music from the ’60s and ’70s with sweeping pedal steel, soaring fiddle accompaniment and driving horns, alongside contemporary influences. Songs like album opener “Old Hat” and “Call Me Country” highlight the past while “Oughta Know That” and “Heartache Medication” lean on modern day production. On “Call Me Country,” Pardi sings of the era of outlaws when the country scene was ruled by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Johnny Paycheck. “They used to call me country/ I’m a ghost on the radio/ A needle on vinyl,” he croons.
“That song is a reminder of paying tribute to my heroes of the ’60s and ’70s. The songs they would sing would never really translate to today,” Pardi says. “‘Gentle On My Mind’ is such a great song. ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ and all those prison songs and train songs. There were so many songs about trains back in the day. There was this different style. You can only hear those sounds from those guys. That’s what the song’s all about.”
The rollicking “Me and Jack” tips its hat to some of those country traditions, as Pardi sings of serving time in jail after a little too much Jack Daniel’s. Ear-grabbing fiddle riffs, a thumping beat and memorable pedal steel flesh out the song, which includes a minute-long instrumental jam at the end.
The feel-good “Tequila Little Time” has become an instant fan favorite since Pardi began playing it live. He says he’s never seen a song have as big a reaction on social media. Pardi penned the clever track with Rhett Akins and Luke Laird and says it’s a special song that means something to his fans. “It’s just fun and they never forget that. [That’s] what songs are about,” he adds.
While the drinking songs are peppered throughout Heartache Medication, so are the love songs and heartbreak ballads. The stunning “Love Her Like She’s Leaving” showcases Pardi’s emotive vocals as he becomes a new man when his ex-girlfriend returns to him. “Every guy has been in that kind of relationship,” Pardi says of the tune.
Meanwhile, standout “Ain’t Always the Cowboy” embraces the universal message of leaving. Written by Brandon Kinney and Josh Thompson, what first attracted Pardi to “Ain’t Always the Cowboy” was that the concept was a great flip on an iconic figure in country music: the cowboy. The song explains how it’s not always the cowboy that rides away, sometimes it’s the girl.
“Great ideas and a great song that means something to somebody is what I pay attention to. ‘Ain’t Always the Cowboy’ was such a great flip on an iconic kind of figure,” he says. “It’s not always the cowboy that rides away. I know girls who are out trying to do their own thing and being independent women and it’s kind of got that to it, but the guy ain’t mad about it.”
In the song, the man isn’t upset about his girl saying goodbye. Instead, he smiles as he lets her go off to chase her dream.
Pardi’s friendship with Lauren Alaina led the pair to record the stirring duet, “Don’t Blame It on Whiskey.” Written by Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Luke Laird and Michael Heeney, Pardi first heard “Whiskey” in 2010 and when it was time to go into the studio to record Heartache Medication, the song came back on his radar.
“After we hosted the ACM Honors together and sang a couple songs together, everybody said we sounded great and it was so fun singing together,” Pardi says of working with Alaina. “Of course I was like, ‘Lauren has to sing [on this].’ She came in and knocked it out of the park.”
It’s on album closer “Starlight” where Pardi leaves a little bit of himself in the song. Written with Butler and Jeffrey Steele in 2014, the country singer says the song has taken on a life of its own. “Starlight” is a poignant ballad that many fans, as well as his own friends and family, have resonated with upon first hearing, as the song is about the loss of a loved one. “No matter where I go/ Never too far from home/ I’ve got you shining down on me,” he says is one of his favorite lines in the song.
“I wrote it with my grandmother in mind, who got me started in music, and she passed away when I was 14. She never really got to see any of this, but she would have loved it,” he reflects. “My buddy passing last year, we played ‘Starlight’ at his funeral, and it had a big impact on everybody that was there, and everybody is so excited to hear it on the record.”
Pardi channeled his country influences when recording Heartache Medication and says the fun he had with the players in the studio shines through the music on the album. He also is well aware that country fans are missing the classic country sound he grew up listening to, in acts like Alan Jackson, Dwight Yoakam, George Strait and Mark Chesnutt, and he’s hoping those influences are heard within the record too.
“That’s why I make the records I make. It’s a country record,” he says of Heartache Medication. “We were going for a fun, new traditional country record that has old-school sounds, but it’s modern, and it can hold its own in this state of country music. I love the quote, ‘We sit around and have some beers and listen to some old country.’ There’s no reason why we couldn’t sit around and have some beers to my new record. It’s the same kind of sounds.”