If the rhinestone-encrusted, turquoise Nudie suit worn by Joshua Hedley in promo photos and on the cover of his debut album, Mr. Jukebox, doesn’t give his revivalist game away, then his voice and music definitely will. This is vintage Country music — the throwback kind not often heard these days on Pop Country airwaves.
Now in his early 30s, Hedley has been playing traditional Country since he was a young fiddler prodigy growing up in Florida. After later moving to Nashville, he landed a regular gig playing at the famed Robert’s Western World, a honky-tonk mecca, and he’s done work as a studio session fiddler with acclaimed artists like Justin Townes Earle, Nikki Lane and Margo Price. Evidently, this was all the prep he needed to jumpstart his own career.
One of only a few Country acts to be signed by Jack White’s Third Man Records (alongside Price and Lillie Mae), Hedley’s Mr. Jukebox delivers melodic, emotionally-charged ballads soaked in both steel guitar and strings. His traditional songs of heartbreak draw from a deeper well than the facile, crossover variety now popular in Music City.
Hedley’s music echoes back to the “Nashville Sound” Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley began to foster in the 1950s, which eventually morphed into the Countrypolitan sound popular in the ’70s. Characterized by lush, sweeping production, the sound is perhaps best exemplified by George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s duet recordings with producer Billy Sherrill in their melodramatic prime. This style emphasized vocals, lyrics and orchestral arrangements — at the expense of the Bakersfield guitar twang.
From the opening torch ballad “Counting All My Tears” to the new single, “Weird Thought Thinker,” many of Hedley’s songs swell with an ever-present chorus of backup singers, which add harmony and depth to his supple tenor. The title track lilts in a lively two-step as he sings of his journeyman days of playing classic covers in bars. It’s easy to imagine Hedley doing justice to the songs of Willie Nelson, George Strait or Glen Campbell.
In “Let’s Take a Vacation,” a Merle Haggard-esque heartbreaker, he even recites a dramatic monologue in the bridge, a lover’s plea to forget the past and fall in love again. Merle would have covered this one, if not written it. And that might be all you need to know about Mr. Jukebox.
Hedley performs Thursday, Feb. 7 at Newport, Kentucky's Southgate House Revival with special guests The Rattletraps. Click here for tickets/more show info.