BY ROGER SHARMAN
NEW ALBUM OUT APRIL 22nd 2022 ON NEW WEST RECORDS
Joshua Hedley’s eagerly anticipated follow up to 2018’s exceptional debut album, ‘Mr Jukebox’, has finally arrived in the shape of new album ‘Neon Blue’ via New West Records.
It’s certainly been worth the wait. Mr Jukebox just went and raised the stakes with this twelve-track gem, co-produced by Jordan Lehning (Rodney Crowell) & Skylar Wilson (Justin Townes Earle), and mixed by Kyle Lehning (George Strait, Randy Travis).
Hedley’s debut demonstrated that he’s a true scholar of country music history, particularly the beery ballads of the 50’s and 60’s. His mentors including George Jones, Ray Price, and Glen Campbell.
‘Neon Blue’ takes inspiration from an entirely different era, the early nineties of which Hedley says “The last bastion of country music was the early 1990s, roughly 1989 through 1996. You could turn on the radio and immediately know you’re hearing a country song. You could still hear steel guitar and fiddle. But there was a hard fork around 1996 or ’97, when country veered off into pop territory. ‘Neon Blue’ asks, “What if that fork never happened? What if country kept on sounding like country?”
Hedley also decided to change tack from ‘Mr Jukebox’ by using the time old tradition of employing Nashville’s finest session Musicians, so Lehning and Wilson put together the band for ‘Neon Blue. “All the players on this record are the people who are playing on Top 40 hits. They’re the professionals playing two or three sessions a day, and it was crazy to see them work. I came in with skeletons and they put flesh on them. They made them into human beings,” Hedley states.
To say that it’s a total move away from ‘Mr Jukebox’ would be incorrect, there are still plenty of tracks on the album such as ‘River in the Rain’ and ‘Down to my Last Lie ‘where the sound is more akin to Conway Twitty than a Sammy Kershaw.
Album opener ‘Broke Again’ straight off the bat, has that up tempo hoedown feel to it, think Alan Jackson’s ‘Chattahoochie’ and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
‘Country and Western’ is more typical of the ‘Mr Jukebox’ record. Hedley pronounces himself as “A singing professor of Country and Western”. On the evidence presented on this album he’s got that spot on.
He goes on to sing “I’ve studied all the legends and learned from what they done. No, I’m not trying to rewind time, I’m just doin’ what I love”.
This record really gives the impression that Hedley had an absolute blast making this record. I’m certainly having a blast reviewing it.
Hedley co-wrote a number of tracks with Carson Chamberlain and Wyatt McCubbin. One of those tracks is ‘Old Heartbroke Blues’ which appears to have been heavily influenced by ‘Storms of Life’ and I found myself nodding away happily, in total approval.
Those old Honky Tonks will be jumping to the sound of ‘The last Thing in the World’. That old Texas fiddle is the stand out element of the song for me and the smoothness of Joshua’s tone.
The truth is real in Country Music, it always has been, and I’ve always loved the simplicity yet powerfulness of the best lyricists, that’s what makes a great writer or in this case, writers in Hedley, Chamberlain and Zach Top. ‘Down to my Last Lie’, just think about that title for a moment, it sounds like a classic Country song, and that’s the truth right there.
Hedley turns crooner for ‘Free (One Heart) which takes us into ballad Country for a moment, as if to give the listener a chance to have a little breather, the calm before the storm that is the title track.
‘Neon Blue’ is a raucous Honky Tonker that sounds like it could have come straight out of the mid-nineties. Of the song Hedley has said “For whatever reason that title just popped into my head, and I was obsessed with it. You’ve got the neon lights of a honkytonk, but you’ve also got that sadness. We got the vibe for the album from ‘Neon Blue,’ and every other song was built around it.
‘Bury Me with My Boots On’ which Hedley co-wrote with Lehning and Wilson is another masterpiece in my opinion, containing lyrical genius like “carve my name into this stool in loving memory of a fool” that’s my kinda writing right there.
Glen Campbell’s influence is quite clear on ‘Found in a Bar’ in fact it’s quite uncanny how similar they sound at points in this song. It’s a superbly arranged song which changes the feel to the album considerably, but it still feels like it belongs on this record.
The soulfulness and smoothness of Hedley’s vocal is prominent on ‘Let’s Make a Memory’ that and the almost dreamy female backing vocal and soothing pedal steel entwined with some slow blues-inspired lead guitar make for a delightful track.
As if not to forget the desired direction of the project, ‘Wonder If You Wonder’ will have folks Scootin’ back out on the dancefloor just like Brooks and Dunn intended. That box gets a big tick again.
‘Neon Blue’ closes out with another beauty, the old Roger Miller classic ballad ‘River in the Rain’ and he does it masterfully, it’s a mind-blowing rendition. Like any good cover, Hedley puts his own spin on this track, but no need to tinker too much on near perfection, a sentiment I’m sure many will agree with.
All in all, I can safely say that I’m going to have a long and happy relationship with this record. The writing is exceptional, the performances of the players is something to behold. The mixing and production are on point. Joshua Hedley has created a collection of songs that he can be proud of, that will stand the test of time, it will please his existing fanbase and if there is any justice in the world will bring a whole army of new fans, and that would be totally deserved.
Joshua Hedley’s ‘Neon Blue’ will be available across digital platforms, on compact disc, and standard black vinyl. A limited “Coke Bottle Clear” colour vinyl edition, as well as an autographed compact disc edition, will be available at Independent Retailers worldwide. Limited, signed compact discs and a limited, transparent blue colour vinyl edition autographed by Joshua Hedley is available for pre-order.
You’ll be able to catch Joshua at Red Rooster Festival in Thetford, Norfolk in early June. That’s one not to be missed!
Neon Blue Track Listing:
- Broke Again
2. Country & Western
3. Old Heartbroke Blues
4. The Last Thing in The World
5. Down To My Last Lie
6. Free (One Heart)
7. Neon Blue
8. Bury Me with My Boots On
9. Found In a Bar
10. Let’s Make a Memory
11. Wonder If You Wonder
12. River In the Rain