BY MICHAEL BERICK
What happens when you lose a “Corndawg”? Some things change and some things stay the same. After beginning his career as Jonny Corndawg, Jonny Fritz has dropped his childhood nickname for his given surname. One result of this name swap is that there isn’t that initial impression that he doing some twangy shtick, delivering entendre-loaded, Outlaw Country-inspired tunes like “Silver Panty Liners” and “Red On The Head.”
While he hasn’t totally shed his ribald ways (“Holy Water” begins: “Where her belly ends and her legs begin/there’s a fork in the road where my journey ends”), Fritz sounds more sincere and honest on Dad Country (even the title is less jokey than its predecessor Down On The Bikini Line). With his thin, reedy vocals, Fritz comes across as an ordinary guy struggling with his messy life while trying to retain a sense of humor.
Although his music has always been based in traditional country, Fritz comes off sounding more legit, even as he uses some very untraditional country references. The rousing country-rock “Goodnight Summer” opens with a rather typical country couplet on drunkenness (“Broken bottle at the bottom of the pool/what the hell happened here last night?”) but later he also includes lines like “Can we swing by a CVS/I left my contract solution at home.” “Fever Dream,” similarly, sports the familiar twang of the pedal steel and fiddle, but this ditty is literally about being sick, complete with mentions of cough drops, antibiotics and “fluid in my lungs/spots on my goddamn tongue.”
There’s an endearing nerdy quality to Fritz’s musical persona. In his barbed looked at Hollywood “Social Climbers” and the unusually jaunty “Wrong Crowd,” he stands as the outsider looking in (“I’m out of my element,” he admits in the latter tune). “Trash Day,” one of the disc’s strongest tracks, uses a man’s forgetting to take out the garbage can to reveal his wobbly relationship (“The Andersons put their trash out Friday night/They never forget and they never fight/And I hate them”).
“Trash Day” also is one of the older Fritz tunes that he has re-done on this disc. “Trash Day” now boasts a biting guitar solo by Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith (who co-produced the disc with Fritz) that nicely represents the husband’s seething anger. His new take on “Shut Up” packs a stronger emotional punch too. Accentuated by Spencer Cullum Jr.’s eerie pedal steel and Wylie Gelber’s lurking “Watching The Detective”-ish bassline, Fritz now spits out “shut up” with scary venom that brings to mind Johnny Dowd’s unhinged Americana.
For all of Fritz’s humorous lyrical twists, his strongest moments here often are when he doesn’t hide his feelings behind funny lines. In “All We Do Is Complain,” Fritz handles a common country topic – a failing relationship – with true poignancy. His heartache really registers as he sings “I bet you had a hard day and I bet you’re too tired to talk/Are we just wasting away/Were we damned from the start?” Fritz’s soul-searching in the spare “Have You Ever Wanted To Die” holds a Townes Van Zandt-like quality and it is in these type of performances that Fritz demonstrates he isn’t just some bawdy “Corndawg” but a singer/songwriter with the ability to handle humor and sentiment in his music.
DOWNLOAD: “Social Climbers,” “Trash Day”