DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Within country music circles one of the most debated topics is the rise of so-called bro country - a brand of macho goodtime music that's dominated the country music over the past year. Rock critic Ken Tucker has some thoughts on the trend as he reviews new albums by Jason Eady and Jon Pardi.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WRITE YOU A SONG")
JON PARDI: (singing) Girl, I'm going to warn you I'm leaving California. First thing in the morning me and the band are loading up the van. We've got to go. We've got another show. We're headed out to Reno and Jackson Hole. And after that I don't really know. But if you're looking for a good time, we can make us a memory of Bakersfield tonight. And then I'll write you a song...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: If you listen to country-music radio at all, you're aware of a dominant subgenre of song - tunes about gittin' in a pick-up truck with a case o' beer, askin' a pretty gal in shorts and flip-flops to come along and party-hearty with you. This formula has yielded big hits and even awards for young male acts such as Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and the duo Florida Georgia Line.
The music critic Jody Rosen popularized a phrase for this genre, bro-country - bro as in brothers, as in male-bonding. One of the better, less tedious and repetitive examples of bro-country can be found on Jon Pardi's new album "Write You A Song."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UP ALL NIGHT")
PARDI: (singing) Now, don't forget your flip flops. We can stop by the Quick Stop, get some jerky and a 12 pack, no telling when we'll be back. I got a cooler in the truck bed, a couple towels when we get wet, 'cause you know we're going to jump in and take a little midnight swim. So baby, let's go, take a dirt road, kick it back, find a good song on the radio to get lost in.
(singing) A sunset falling. Lay a blanket by the creek where the moon peaks over that sycamore tree and there won't be anyone watching, no one watching. Now, there ain't nothing wrong...
TUCKER: On the second verse of "Up All Night," Jon Pardi hits all the bro-country bullet points: 12-packs of beer, flip-flops, implied skinny-dipping with a babe. But where other bro acts tend to polish their clichés to a glossy pop sheen, Pardi maintains a certain roughness, and a clear fondness for more hardcore honky-tonk music. Take, for example, this fine nouveau drinking song "What I Can't Put Down."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT I CAN'T PUT DOWN")
PARDI: (singing) I knew the first time should've been the last time I ever let the whiskey touch my lips because the devil wears black and he goes by Jack and he's really good at helping me forget. Huh. I thought I was cool when I was kid, walking around with a cigarette lit. On that old dirt road I lit my first smoke and I knew right then it wouldn't let me go.
(singing) And it's all or nothing so keep it coming. Let that feeling run through my veins. Ain't no stopping, keep on rocking, yeah. You see, I'm always, yeah, I'm always picking up what I can't put down. Yeah, I'm always picking up what I can't put, can't put, can't put down.
TUCKER: Pardi, with his amiably raspy voice and clever way with wordplay, is doing a good job of straddling two markets - what the large mainstream country demo wants, which is pop-country-rock as party anthems, and the smaller segment of the market that prizes its own concept of authenticity: the lineage that carries back to George Jones and Merle Haggard even unto Hank Williams.
One of the more determined of the younger traditionalists is Jason Eady, whose new album "Daylight and Dark" is filled with twangy stories of drinking all by one's lonesome - no parties or flip-flops for this guy.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OK WHISKEY")
JASON EADY: (singing) It's been a long day driving and I'm in here in OK City. I've been drinking at this bar for an hour now. Feeling all filled up, that's the only thing I'm feeling. Then I remember where I am I see the problem now. It's whiskey or nothing up in Oklahoma. The beer up here just won't do, do, do. Line 'em up, bartender. It don't have to be your finest, OK whiskey treats me better than that old three-two.
(singing) Well, I headed out this morning...
TUCKER: Two years ago, Jason Eady had a cult hit with a song called "AM Country Heaven," which sprayed a lot of buckshot at bro-country music. In the press release that accompanies his new album Eady says: I've never been interested in the mainstream and I've never had any particular interest in hits at the expense of quality.
I think this is an example of protesting too much: Surely singers Eady admires such as George Jones were interested in both quality and hits. And sure, in a better world, this adroitly phrased song called "One, Two... Many" would be radio staple for Jason Eady.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE, TWO...MANY")
EADY: (singing) I always seem to start off with the best of intentions. I just need a little something to unwind. Then one becomes tomorrow, so much for good intentions. I'm just looking for some comfort than I've found. But I have one, two...many...
TUCKER: Ultimately, both Jon Pardi and Jason Eady have to confront the dilemma of all young country musicians: How to navigate the pop current that keeps country music commercially viable while connecting to a past that fewer and fewer listeners are aware of. It's not a matter of being either a sell-out or authentic; it's a matter of making music that enough people want to hear to sustain a career.
DAVIES: Ken Tucker reviewed new albums by Jason Eady and Jon Pardi. You can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org. Follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com.