kelly pardekooper
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kelly pardekooper

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The best kept secret in music


"No Depression June 2005"

You can take the boy out of Iowa but…

You might call Kelly Pardekooper’s Haymaker Heart the musical equivalent of a mid-life crisis. Not only does his fourth album represent the most creative stretch of his career, it’s release caps a tumultuous year for the 37-year old Iowan. Over the course of 2004, Pardekooper got divorced, sold his house, hit the road and left the Iowa City music scene, where he’s been a fixture since his university days.

He’s made a fresh start in Nashville - not the Nashville, he hastens to add, of Music Row, publishing deals and songs pitched to Tim McGraw, but the funkier East Nashville of garage studios, bohemian bars and indie rock. It’s the sort of neighborhood where a musician who plays the clubs at night might support himself by painting houses by day (as Pardekooper does).

He moved there at the invitation of his friend and occasional producer/guitarist Teddy Morgan, who suggested this might be a better, or at least warmer place to take stock of his life and see what’s next. “Teddy said that East Nashville was probably not the Nashville that I had in my head”, Pardekooper says, “I made this leap of faith more for personal than musical reasons.”

Yet his artistry has clearly reaped the benefits of that year of upheaval. With his life up for grabs, Pardekooper pushed his music past his comfort zone as well, venturing past alt-country convention and what he calls “the train beat from hell” of his previous releases.

The album opening “Not in Iowa” (ironically recorded in Iowa) serves as an evocative swan song to his native state, with sinuous atmospherics that suggest a spaghetti-western shootout between Dire Straits and Calexico. A raspy narrative relates a murder from the perspective of the corpse, to the serenade of Dave Moore’s accordion.

“Where my previous album “House of Mud” was recorded in four days with the same band, this one was recorded over the entire year of 2004, and I used about every guest musician in Iowa City,” he explains. “I’m not getting rich, obviously, so one of the great freedoms I have is to make any kind of record I want.”

It’s the kind of freedom Kris Kristofferson famously defined as “nothing left to lose,” and it inspired Pardekooper to go for broke. Over the course of thirteen “official” cuts and seven “bonus” tracks, Haymaker Heart surveys a soundscape that extends from the propulsive rock of “Wild Love” to the hard-core honky tonk of “Just Shoot Me” to the stream-of-consciousness broadsides of “Folk This” and “21st Century Trailer Park” to the pop harmonies of “Too Late”. Pardekooper justifies the range of what amounts to a double album with songwriting that is as focused as the music is expansive.

Though Pardekooper didn’t pick up the guitar and start writing songs until his early 20s, his formative musical influences came from the record collection of his “hippie” parents - CCR, The Band, Buffalo Springfield and the like. He later embraced not only the rawer aggression of The Clash, but the DIY ethic of the punk era. He earned a degree in communication from the University of Iowa, where he attended on a pole-vaulting scholarship.

Pardekooper is issuing Haymaker Heart on his own Leisure Time Records (after two previous releases on Iowa City’s Trailer Records), and he handles his own management, booking, and publicity. While he’s yet to establish much of a stateside following outside of Iowa, where his Devil’s House Band remains fondly (if a little drunkenly) remembered, Europe has been quicker to embrace Pardekooper. A late winter tour through the Netherlands and Germany followed the ascension of Haymaker Heart to the top of the Euro-Americana chart (above such stalwarts as Alison Krauss and Iris DeMent). Apparently his name - which means “horse buyer” in Dutch - doesn’t sound as funny to Amsterdam fans, who have embraced him as a prodigal son.

“In Europe I have a label, distribution, a publicity company, and a booking agency,” he says. “I have the same booking agent in Amsterdam as Jay Farrar and the Drive-By Truckers. I tell him (the agent) that in America there is no comparison between what those guys are doing and what I’m doing. And the agent just says. ‘Well, they like you here.’”

As for America, “I’m in that netherworld where a lot of musicians are,” he acknowledges. “This is a lot more than a hobby, but not quite a full time career. I’m really passionate about it and I like all the elements of what I do. I enjoy the recording, I really like playing live and I love the songwriting.”

And if Tim McGraw should decide to cut one of his songs? “I don’t have any philisophical issue with that,” he says with a laugh. “If somebody wants to record my songs it could give me a break from house painting so I could write some more.”

(Memo to Tim McGraw: Pardekooper’s “Draw the Line” is a hit just waiting to happen. And there’s even a harmony part for Faith.)

- Don McLeese

- Don McLeese

"PopMatters October 2005"

Kelly Pardekooper’s opening tune “Not to Iowa” has a dark, moody tone to it that is somewhere between Tarbox Ramblers, The Mavericks and Handsome Family. The singer nails the niche format to a tee on the first song with a bit of bolero mixed with accordion. He opts for a rowdier roots rock on the gorgeous “Tell Me (You’re the One)” that starts slowly before picking up steam while “Draw the Line” follows a similar framework — a old-time, dusty country-tinged that features Amy Finders providing sweet Margo Timmins-esque harmonies. When he goes down in tempo, he is better, especially during the honky-tonkin’ “Just Shoot Me”. However, the Isaak-like effort on “Wild Love” is a twist, but not really a great one. Nor is the softer, polished vibes on “Too Late” although this one is somewhat easier on the ears. Fans of Milton Mapes (relatively unknown but oh my word underrated band) would enjoy “Drinking Alone Again” that is rough and surly around the edges. The sleeper could be the catchy and to-the-point ditty “21st Century Trailer Park” that is a toe-tapper, as is the Blue Rodeo-ish “Down”. The highlight is the closing “Take Me 2 My Home” which a pure Americana tune that builds and builds.
— Jason MacNeil
- Jason Macneil


"Haymaker Heart" (2005) #1 on EuroAmericana Chart, #17 XM Satellite X-Country. Released on Leisure Time Records in U.S. and Trocadero Records in Europe.

"House of Mud" (2003) Released on Trailer Records in U.S. and Trocadero Records in Europe.

"Johnson County Snow" (2000) Released on Trailer Records in U.S.


Feeling a bit camera shy


Kelly Pardekooper is a singer/songwriter/housepainter currently based in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. A self-described "guy from Iowa with bad hair and a funny name."

Hailing from Iowa City, he dabbles in alt-country, twang-n-bang rock-n-roll, folk, blues, rock, pop or whatever musical gumbo he’s eating today....

Kelly has released four studio albums from 1998-2005, with a handful of live bootleg recordings from Europe and U.S. tours scattered around the planet and internet. Kelly’s albums have been released and distributed by Trocadero Records in Europe and Trailer Records and Leisure Time Records in the United States. His albums are available to purchase at shows, on his website, Miles of Music, CD Baby, i-Tunes, and select independent record stores. He is currently at work on album number five with Teddy Morgan producing in East Nashville.

Kelly has toured extensively in the United States, Germany, Holland, and Austria. He has performed to thousands at European festivals, and he has also played to tables and chairs on the Iowa chitlin’ circuit...and every kind of gig in between. Currently Kelly is doing 50-75 shows per year, depending on his mood and love life....

Career highlights include: Take Root Festival-Assen, Holland. SXSW showcase-Austin TX. Receiving Jim Beam Whiskey emerging artist grant. Receiving Iowa Arts Council artist grants. Seeing Berlin Wall on tour in Germany. Dancing at basement Goth party in Berlin. Recording House of Mud at Jimmy Buffet’s Shrimpboat Sound recording studio. Touring Holland where his Dutch name isn’t so funny. Performing with Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, and Joe Price at Trailer Records showcase. Haymaker Heart reaching #1 on Euro-Americana radio chart, XM satellite radio etc....

Kelly has had loads of critical praise in national and international publications.

"Not in Iowa suggests a sinuous atmospheric spaghetti-western shootout between Dire Straits and Calexico. “ -No Depression

"Loaded with hooks, high energy, and hummable melodies. Pardekooper is a first-rate vocalist." -All Music Guide

"Haymaker Heart is a jaw-dropping album of hook-laden pop, folk-rock and raucous paint-strippers." -Iowa City Press Citizen

"The sleeper could be the catchy and to-the-point ditty “21st Century Trailer Park” that is a toe-tapper, as is the Blue Rodeo-ish “Down”.” -PopMatters

"Memo to Tim McGraw: Pardekooper's 'Draw the Line' is a hit just waiting to happen. And there's even a harmony part for Faith." -No Depression

"Haymaker Heart is not just the best album released in a 120-mile radius; it’s one of the best things I’ve heard all year. Iowa City native Pardekooper fares well compared to virtually any singer-songwriter out there. " -River Cities' Reader

"Folk This is a hilarious, name-dropping snipe at Alt-Country, No Depression-style posers." -MusicEmissions

"Forced to pick favorites for the year, 'House of Mud' is all grit and guts in the best possibe sense!" -Des Moines Register

"Haymaker Heart moves from Steve Earle to Beatles to Buzzcocks. " -Rockzilla

"A moody alt-country original." -Nashville Scene

"The title track on House of Mud is a slow-driven southern swamp blues that cuts through to the soul." -Miles of Music

"Haymaker Heart goes good with beer, anger or sadness, and looks fine next to some other records you keep close by, just in case... “ -MusicEmissions

“Pardekooper’s art is true Americana. Americana enough to make good fun of the whole genre in “Folk This” - a mocking yet catchy tribute to the alt-country/Americana genre with references, direct and oblique, to Dylan, Mellencamp, Uncle Tupelo, the Old 97’s, Ryan Adams, Robbie Fulks, among others. Really clever and the tune stays with you. It’s surprising “Folk This” hasn’t gotten airplay as a novelty song.”

"Folk This is a straight slap in the face at John Mellencamp and others who try to jump on the folk-roots bandwagon." -Freight Train Boogie

"This Iowa Singer-Songwriter plays a loose combination of narrative songs that range in presentation from stark, acoustic guitar Folk to loud, endearingly sloppy Country Rock."

"Apparently his name - which means 'horse buyer' in Dutch - doesn’t sound as funny to Amsterdam fans, who have embraced him as a prodigal son." -No Depression

"Kelly Pardekooper’s opening tune “Not to Iowa” has a dark, moody tone to it that is somewhere between Tarbox Ramblers, The Mavericks and Handsome Family. The singer nails the niche format to a tee on the first song with a bit of bolero mixed with accordion." -PopMatters

"He must be good if he was featured in the German Glamour magazine!" -the Onion

"Haymaker Heart is an early candidate for one of the top-10 alt. country CDs of the year and a valiant effort that should garner some much deserved recognition for Pardekooper. "