Every now and then, a non-country artist manages to reinvent himself as, well, a country artist. The results are often mixed and can often smack of carpetbagging or calculation — oh hi, Jessica Simpson — but every now and then, an act comes along who actually seems to fit in. A good example of this is Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish, who has had considerable success with his three country albums. Other times, they lead to interesting anomalies, such as Jaron and the Long Road to Love (aka Jaron Lowenstein).
Though natives of Georgia, identical twin brothers Evan and Jaron Lowenstein don't come from a country background in the slightest. They grew up in a Jewish household in Atlanta, and cut their teeth on coffeehouse gigs. By 2000, they had put out their debut album for Columbia Records, led off by the Top 20 pop hit "Crazy for This Girl" A listen to "Crazy for This Girl" finds elements that, while they might have been a little "out there" even in the poppy, bland country format of 2000, many of the song's elements sound surprisingly akin to what's "in" in country right now. The combination of heavy rock guitars and cellos is straight out of Dann Huff's playbook, and the lyrics about young love wouldn't be out of place if sung by the current passel of younger-skewing country acts (Gloriana, Love and Theft, Dan + Shay, Hunter Hayes, etc). Followups to "Crazy for This Girl" flopped, the Lowensteins ended their careers to start families, and Evan and Jaron looked to be yet another mostly overlooked footnote in the pop tumult at the turn of the millennium.
In 2009, Jaron released his solo debut single, credited to "Jaron and the Long Road to Love." The "and the long road to love" part referred not to a musical entity, but rather a state of mind. Jaron told CMT, "right now it's really just my story. It's just about my relationships and how I'm on this long road to love." Universal Republic picked up the single from independent distribution, and by 2010, it was within the Top 15 of the country charts. The song finished its run with a #34 entry on the Hot 100, and eventually, a platinum digital certification. (I even remember seeing "homebrew" copies of the single being sold at an f.y.e. store in Saginaw. They were literally burning the song onto CD, printing a label with an inkjet printer, and selling it, right in store.)
And for good reason, too. "Pray for You" is most certainly an attention-getting song. It opens with a man taking away from a preacher the message that you should pray for those who have wronged you, and turning said message on its head: "I pray your brakes go out running down a hill / I pray a flowerpot falls from a windowsill…" I actually laughed out loud the first time I heard the sudden change in the song's tone, and then called my mom and sister out to the car the second time I heard it. The whole song seems both bitter and tongue-in-cheek at the same time, embracing a dry humor the likes of which country radio has rarely seen before or since.
It was also far more slick and poppy even than the increasingly-overproduced country surrounding it. The week the song hit Top 40, only one other song seemed to "pop" the way "Pray for You" did: namely, the colorful, almost gaudy "Hip to My Heart" by The Band Perry. Jaron wasn't even the only crossover on that week's chart, as just below him, Jewel was making one of many valiant efforts to prove her cred as a country singer with the effervescent "Stay Here Forever." Further up, we find American Idol's Danny Gokey providing the sunny "My Best Days Are Head of Me"; another bubbly girl (Sarah Buxton) finally getting her lone semi-hit out of "Outside My Window"; Luke Bryan's playful "Rain Is a Good Thing"; a plea for tolerance from Love and Theft in "Dancing in Circles"; and a promise of neverending love in Lee Brice's "Love Like Crazy." Overall, the theme seemed to be positivity, so "Pray for You" probably seemed outright sinister in comparison, probably enough to prevent it from being a Top 5 or even #1. (Particularly if you've seen the alternate video…)
So perhaps for that reason, Jaron tried "That's Beautiful to Me," a modern-day "She Don't Know She's Beautiful" that still kept an air of humor to it. I actually reviewed this song and gave it 4 out of 5 stars, while noting that it seemed like a total 180 from "Pray for You." But maybe that was its downfall: both songs had rather generic production, and "That's Beautiful to Me" probably didn't have quite enough to stand out from the pack. The corresponding album, Getting Dressed in the Dark, remained the only output of Jaron and the Long Road to Love. (Maybe he should've renamed it "Jaron and the Short Road to Love"?)
Jaron never seemed overly committed to the "and the Long Road to Love" part, as he later did a solo song with Big Kenny, then a 2011 album with a new project called The Cordovas, featuring former Carson Daly bandleader Joe Firstman. Subsequent recordings, sporadic as they are, do not use the "and the Long Road to Love" suffix. Altogether, Getting Dressed in the Dark seems like it was little more than a side project. And for that reason, this is probably going to wind up being one of my shorter articles — there's really not too much to say in-depth about a side project that only lasts a year or so. Still, "Pray for You" was certainly a distinctive and interesting "fluke" release of its era, and the song still leaves a big impression on me well after the fact.