What does it sound like?:
Joshua Hedley’s debut album Mr. Jukebox is a throwback to the time country music shook off its raucous, Saturday night Honky Tonk Bar image in an attempt to compete with the nascent high quality studio sounds of pop, soul and rock ‘n’ roll. Thus was born the Nashville Sound in the late 50s, a slick production template that slowed the tempo, married strings with choral harmonies and cultivated a close-to-tears singing style that could out croon even Bing Crosby. It’s a sound that was itself usurped by The Outlaw Country of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, artists who wanted more direct control over the songs they recorded and the arrangements for them.
Since arriving in Nashville in 2004 Hedley’s earned his dues playing second fiddle on the fiddle for other country artists including Third Man Records label mate Margo Price. Hedley is only the second country singer to sign to Jack White’s hip record label. Indeed, there’s something of the hipster look about Hedley with his full beard and extensive arm tattoos that even a Nudie suit and pinch front cowboy hat can’t quite overcome. Look closer at those tattoos and there’s one of Mickey Mouse. Hedley is a self-confessed Walt Disney fan and at times when listening to Mr. Jukebox it’s easy to imagine him soundtracking a Toy Story offshoot featuring Woody and Jessie heading out West in search of Stinky Pete’s Hidden Gold.
Any notion from outward appearances that Hedley is somehow moonlighting as a bona fide country man is effortlessly dispelled by the 9 originals and 1 cover version (When You Wish Upon A Star, natch) on Mr. Jukebox. This is an album that stands or falls by Hedley’s vocal delivery which effortlessly balances sad intimacy with acclamatory defiance and hospitable stoicism without ever breaking into a sweat. Hedley’s songs deserve a good singer and in their master they have one. His voice is just powerful enough to work with the lush and melody rich musical arrangements, just worn enough to serve the dominant themes of love and loss (are there any other in Nashville country?) and just understated enough to make the universality and familiarity of it all sound deeply personal.
If Hedley reminds me of any single artist from that first Nashville sound era it’s Patsy Cline, especially on tracks like If These Walls Could Talk and This Time. His songs have the instant pop appeal of her old classics and sound strong enough to have been able to slip easily into her own repertoire. The main question is whether there’s enough originality in Hedley’s first album to position him as more than just a pleasant throwback to bygone times or if his album represents a transitional reconnection with country music’s popular past in order to find a new direction ahead for today’s country music. To these ears it sounds like Hedley has enough talent in the bank, as a singer and a songwriter, to stretch himself further and to nurture something more evolutionary from the solid platform of his debut.
What does it all *mean*?
That teaching a new dog old tricks can be equally revealing
Goes well with…
The sounds of a Grand Old Opry concert emanating from a vintage Bush radiogram
Might suit people who like…
Twirling about with your partner in a Fringe jacket or a Prairie skirt