Photo: Jamie Goodsell / Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

Nashville Cat Joshua Hedley Comes to Shine With a Fine Debut Solo Album

With years of performing under his belt, longtime Nashville session player Joshua Hedley releases his first collection of original material.

Mr. Jukebox
Joshua Hedley
Third Man
20 April 2018

Among Nashville circles, Joshua Hedley’s name is golden. As an ace fiddler, he’s been a go-to session man for years, first starting out on the hallowed Robert’s Western Wear stage and other well-known joints on Lower Broadway before slowly building up an impressive list of collaborators in folks like Elizabeth Cook, Jonny Fritz, and Justin Townes Earle. The years spent in bars and studios proved worthwhile. If there’s a country song that needs to be played, Hedley could pick up a fiddle — or a multitude of other instruments for that matter — and make it happen.

The past few years have found Hedley willing and ready to take the next step and record music of his own. This spring finds that leap of faith rewarded in the form of Mr. Jukebox, a ten-track album of originally written material — save for one splendid cover version of “When You Wish Upon a Star” — produced by Skyler Wilson and Jordan Lehning. The album, distributed by Jack White’s Third Man Records label is also a veritable who’s who of the Nashville scene, featuring several of those “hot lick” session players that Hedley has run with over the years.

With this in mind, it’s fitting that the sound of each track emanating out of the speakers takes listeners to a hot, sweaty night on the dance floor of one of Nashville’s finer country music establishments. Authentic and pure, the music swells with both cinematic richness and snappy, foot-stomping adrenaline that hearkens back to the sweet 1960s and ’70s sounds of yesteryear. As a writer and vocalist, Hedley also delivers lived-in authenticity. You tend to believe what he is saying without hesitation.

Consider the track, “Let’s Take a Vacation”; its swooning melody is framed by Hedley’s sturdy vocal delivery. He sends out believable pleas to his lover about the virtues of rekindling that lost flame. Perhaps the sands of the Florida beaches can sooth all that has gone wrong. He also throws in a nice spoken word interlude worthy of comparison to some of George Jones’ finest work.

Another superb example of Hedley’s craft lies in “Counting All My Tears”. With low-key piano tinges and heavenly choral backing, he laments the ending of a romantic relationship with such melancholy that you’ll be tempted to track him down to ask if he’s going to be all right. He likely is, though he’s probably at the bar, nursing a few beers to help with the sorrow.

The specter of lost love hangs over the album. Whether he’s grappling with newfound solitude, looking for second chances with a lover that’s moved on, or like in the twisting “This Time”, where it’s the narrator breaking things off, heartache is at the forefront of Hedley’s songwriting. It takes a deft writer to pull this off; without a controlled understanding of traditional country themes and values, heartbreak songs can sound more treacly than sincere. Hedley’s obviously studied enough and performed enough on his own to embody these sentiments fully and completely.

Things aren’t all sad, though. There are a few moments of flat-out glee. The title track reflects Hedley’s coming-of-age moments deep in the heart of Country Music USA, while also paying tribute to those that flock to Nashville like a magnet. “Let Them Talk” showcases Hedley’s fiddle mastery and reminds us why he’s always so highly sought after by other artists. And, the highly entertaining “Weird Thought Thinker” puts into words the common anxieties, doubts, and shenanigans that constantly run through our minds on a day-to-day basis. It also swings with pure waltzing joy.

With more attention likely to follow, Hedley will have a more difficult time blending in along the dank walls of Lower Broadway. A recent appearance at the Grand Ole Opry and a round of headline touring this summer and fall have all but assured that. Knowing his past, though, it’s likely a safe bet that he’ll continue to live his life as a country music artist as he always has. This time, he’s got some songs of his own to throw out to crowds, as well.

RATING 8 / 10