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‘Jonathan Goes Country’: Jonathan Richman’s Country Love Letter

The album is a north star in Richman’s discography, a brilliant illustration of his genius as a songwriter.

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Jonathan Goes Country album cover
Cover: Courtesy of Rounder Records

In 1990, Jonathan Richman was at a career crossroads. His band, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, had dissolved a few years prior. His debut solo album, 1989’s Jonathan Richman, was radical in its experimentation, an almost tangible representation of Richman freeing himself from his past group. The record was built around voice, guitar, and percussive foot stomping. It has since become a cult classic among Richman devotees, but it was far from the art rock dopamine rush that made his band a beloved staple of the indie rock renaissance. Nevertheless, when Richman went in to record the follow-up to his self-titled debut, he doubled down on his experimentation, recording Jonathan Goes Country, a seemingly irony-tinged interpretation of modern country music imbued with far more sincerity than appeared on the surface. Decades later, the album remains a north star in Richman’s discography, a brilliant illustration of his genius as a songwriter and interpreter of popular music’s rich history.

Listen to Jonathan Goes Country now.

Jonathan Goes Country kicks off with “Since She Started to Ride,” a playful story about the protagonist’s wife disappearing from his life after she becomes obsessed with horse riding. It’s silly on its face, but the track succeeds – and remains one of the best in Richman’s discography – because of the underlying melancholy. When he sings, “And no I don’t see her much since she started with horses/No I don’t see her much since she started to ride,” the song is less a parroting of classic country tropes and more a unique spin on the alienation and solitude that permeates country music’s origins.

Since She Started to Ride

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Elsewhere on the album, Richman remakes his own tracks as country standards. Cuts like “Corner Store,” “You’re the One for Me,” and “The Neighbors” seem to take on entirely new contexts with this sound. Richman also cooks up instrumental versions of Tammy Wynette’s “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” and Skeeter Davis’ “I Can’t Stay Mad at You,” using the mostly voiceless tracks as palette-cleansing interludes. He also creates new renditions of Porter Wagoner’s “A Satisfied Mind” and Marty Robbins’ “Man Walks Among Us,” diving deep into the country songbook. On Jonathan Goes Country, the mercurial, always innovative Jonathan Richman proves that his boldest experiments can be pretty damn fun, too.

Listen to Jonathan Goes Country now.

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