by Robert Dean
When people ask about Farce The Music, I like to think of what we do around here is spread “The Gospel of Good Shit.” We’ve helped give a little credence to folks who are either up and coming or out there killing it, who deserve more ink than other outlets are providing them.
We talked about Sturgill before he was cool, and we blabbed on about Chris Stapleton when he was still “that big, bearded dude from The Steeldrivers.” We shouted from the rooftops about Tyler Childers and Colter Wall back when no one had so much of heard of these dudes outside of Ole’ W.B. Walker. We’ve not shut up about Margo Price since she was talking about losing the farm and wanting a bottle of wine for momma.
Lindi Ortega, Jason Isbell, Lillie Mae, Ian Noe, Kacey Musgraves, and Justin Wells - all of that amazing music, we’ve been waiving those flags a long time now. This isn’t a pat on the back; it’s a mission statement: we’re dedicated to helping champion amazing artists, and hopefully getting some of these folks who are still slugging it out in bars, playing for tips, sell a few t-shirts or at least another bottle of PBR after their set.
There’s a name that keeps popping up on my radar over and over again, someone who thanks to my mate Harsha down in Sydney, I got the chance to see in a tiny little room above a Spanish restaurant on the other side of the planet. That name is Joshua Hedley.
While I enjoyed my experience seeing him in a packed room full of Aussies in their best country gear, it wasn’t until I heard his new record, Mr. Jukebox, when I was flabbergasted at Joshua Hedley’s beauty and brilliance.
Joshua Hedley is a name that will be mentioned in places “too cool” for country, that vaunted Sturgill Simpson territory, an area that blurs the lines of just who Sturgill’s “core” fanbase is, nobody knows – but there sure are a ton of them. Rolling Stone has already jumped on board, and then there’s NPR, The Chicago Reader, The Tennessean, to name just a few who are falling hard for Hedley’s debut Third Man Records release.
Having spent years as a featured Monday night performer at Robert’s Western World down on Nashville’s main drag, since his teens, Hedley knows a thing or two about playing the hits, and it shows on Mr. Jukebox. It’s become lore amongst the musicians on Broadway to cite how well Hedley knows his country music, but also that he can play it at the drop of a Stetson.
What Mr. Jukebox isn’t, is another record featuring a desire to be a bar room badass, a fighter in a leather hat ala Waylon with a Kool dangling off his lip, ready to clean a clock and peel out on a Harley, middle fingers up. Outlaw isn’t a world uttered when describing what Hedley does, in fact, it’s the exact opposite of what he does.
When Waylon and Willie were coming up and energizing the idea of what the Outlaw scene meant, it was on the merit of beer swigging hooligans who write songs for guys with hard knuckles and a constitution for cheap blow and fast women. The songs weren’t complex arrangements, nor did they lean on the traditions of Nudie suits or songs about horses and other fairy tales of the scene back then.
Outlaw was decidedly not what was popular in the day’s country music, which featured lush string arrangements and stories about heartbreak, and deceit by a lovelorn partner. There was a sense of beauty to those songs, a purpose driven by big choruses and a beat that anyone could two-step to, drunk or sober, happy or sad.
That’s precisely the nerve Joshua Hedley taps into on Mr. Jukebox with booming traditionalism and on the nose respect to the late 50’s early 60’s era of country, before disco or rock n' roll changed the flavor.
The soul of Mr. Jukebox is decidedly unhip to mainstream Nashville standards, but the songs are glorious throwbacks to guys like Ernest Tubb, George Jones or Buck Owens. The reason Mr. Jukebox succeeds is his backbone of traditionalism, not only in character, but also because of Ole’ Hed’s dedication to the heart of real country music.
Hedley’s fiddle furiously battles his smooth vocal runs with a multi-disciplined attack that's just damned good music. Joshua Hedley can strum a guitar, sing with a clean, clear harmonious range, and write lyrics that are not only witty, but also painstakingly crafted so that the words on some of the record’s tracks land like guy punches.
Mr. Jukebox is the record you can slip on for MeeMaw while she’s in the kitchen and you’re likely to get a head turn out of her because the sound, the style, the playing is so believable, so in the moment; it’s hard to reckon that Mr. Jukebox is brand new. Say what you will, but there’s always something pleasing about getting a flicker of recognition from the old school, even if she’s just making a gumbo in her slippers.
The record’s opener, “Counting All My Tears” lets the listener know that without a doubt, Conway Twitty’s stamp is there. All throughout the album, the steel guitar slides and wanes while the harmonies are large productions that harken back to the thick, wall of sound delivery, but with a slight tinge of gospel power hidden in the rafters for a sprinkle of good luck.
“Weird Thought Thinker” feels like that era of Willie Nelson before he moved back to Texas, while “I Never (Shed a Tear)” feels straight off Patsy Cline’s vine and broadcast to the world via The Grand Ole Opry. This is pure classic, country music that’s without any of the bullshit sparkles. We’re getting closer and closer to two factions of country music coming to the forefront: Southern Pop and Country Music.
If there was any doubt of what Joshua Hedley does, brother you ain’t been paying attention. Mr. Jukebox is here to stay, and the waves we’ll see in his wake will only push those boats higher and higher – green Nudie suit and all.
Mr. Jukebox is available everywhere you consume fine music.