Sometimes it’s not cool to be funny, but balancing comedy with song is something that country music has always done particularly well: folks like Roger Miller took a genre of “novelty” tunes and made it something that could actually move records and turn minds, but even Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty had a sense of humor – take their duet “You’re the Reason Our Kids are Ugly,” which somehow manages to be insulting, funny and sweet all in one lick. In fact, many of the Opry greats can shed at tear with the same few chords they use to squeeze out a chuckle – music is entertainment, after all, as well as a vehicle for channeling heartbreak, and if the cliché is true, laughter is the best medicine (or at least slightly less addictive than other options – just ask Hank Williams).
Though thoughtful comedic composition had fallen by the wayside – either the humor was annoying (“Red Solo Cup”) or thoughtless (“Red Solo Cup,” again, or anything by Florida Georgia Line, and unintentionally so) – Johnny Fritz has been breathing new life into an oft-forgot corner of country, singing about Trash Day and Bikini Lines, balancing it all with deft songwriting and the ability to vacillate from silly to serious with the same skillful touch.
Jonny’s third record, Dad Country, came out in April, and featured a pretty esteemed cast of characters (Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith, Tay Strathairn and Wylie Gelber of Dawes, Jackson Browne, and his Nashville band of Spencer Cullum Jr, Joshua Hedley, Taylor Zachry and Jerry Pentecost). At the root of it, Jonny’s a storyteller, creating a web of often-inauspicious characters who are down on their luck in love – or maybe just out of contact solution. Either way, he’s adept at honky-tonk melody and ballsy with words – Jon Prine can sing about the East Bunny and Guy Clark homegrown tomatoes, but we balk when Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes says “chicken wing.” Jonny sings about CVS and razor blades and panty liners and doesn’t look back. Nothing is off limits, but luckily that extends beyond silly lyrics into raw emotion. I’ve always loved “Trash Day” – it’s funny, sure, but so accurately depicts the “oh shit-ness” of being in a relationship it’s nearly tragic, too.
We got to know Jonny a bit through his Nashville Five – including his favorite mechanic and barber. He recently made waves at SXSW, and though his Nashville show this week has been cancelled, you can take a trip to catch him live in Tennessee March 27th in Knoxville. I hear East TN is beautiful this time of year.