Mr. Jukebox by Joshua Hedley is a trip of a debut album. These fresh ten songs via Third Man Records caught the attention of NPR Music, thanks to Hedley’s personal goal: music that honors tradition in a heartfelt way. The record’s authentic connection to an earthy Nashville sound lands it straight in the Great American Songbook.
Tapped as part of the Music We Love Series with NPR Music, the first single “Mr. Jukebox” embodies the essence of Hedley’s record and gives a taste of what is to come. This is classic country. Finding a way to make a nod to a traditional genre while still keeping it fresh is an ever-evolving quest for all artists in this ocean filled with decent songwriters. The quest is to rise above, all the while staying connected to roots Americana. Hedley does just that. This is that breath of fresh air that Americana has been waiting for, with its two-stepping, feel-good vibes.
This record fits with the Nashville sound recently celebrated by fellow troubadour Jason Isbell. This vibe was born in ‘50s honky tonks and bar rooms. Some of the best–from Jim Reeves, Charlie Pride, and Glen Campbell, all the way to Gretchen Wilson–all have some common threads: simple, authentic lyrics; lush instrumentation; and stories about life and love. Mr. Jukebox is steeped in this tradition. Listening almost feels like a flashback to a broadcast of the Grand Ol’ Opry, with the family circled around the radio in front of the fireplace on a Saturday night in a time not so long ago.
The opening lyrics of “Counting All My Tears” invite us all into a distinctive world. The Skylar-Wilson-and-Jordan-Lehning-produced record lets folks know what they are in for; this is real authentic music that does not come along every generation. Hedley was raised in Florida with a fiddle in his hands by the age of eight, growing up with a mom who played Neil Diamond and a dad who played Otis Redding. These influences shaped the songwriter Hedley would grow up to be. Is “Weird Thought Thinker” a self proclamation of the real man? One would think so, but the second record will tell us all for certain. In the meantime, listeners can almost hear the smile behind each lyric, each a dream that is becoming real.
His authentic delivery, full of heartfelt emotions, causes slow ballads to be standout tracks. These let the tone and delivery of this young talent shine: “Let’s Take A Vacation” is a drift-away moment, a lovely release full of hope and escape. Similarly fitting this bill is “Don’t Waste Your Tears,” which has almost an Elvis Presley, 1950s vibe–when he was truly a king during the Sun Records days. Accentuated with subtle instrumentation, this song is a cut above the rest, and that is ridiculous to say on a record this good. Honest and real, heartstrings are plucked and broken. “I Never Shed A Tear For You” is a honky tonk reinforcement of the truth. Sonically, this is stellar, with an array of support studio musicians and back-up singers that create a time capsule. Brilliance seems an understatement.
The uptempo stroll of “This Time,” lush with strings, is stunningly full of sarcasm. Each refrain is so well constructed musically that it seems simple. Heading out of the album, “Let Them Talk” is an homage to small town life. If you have lived in one, you know. Fun, bouncy secrets are always something everyone wants to be a part of; minding someone else’s business is always more exciting than minding one’s own.
Delivering a new take on an old classic, the close-out cut of the album is a cover of Ned Harline and Ned Washington’s “When You Wish Upon A Star,” best known for its rendition sung by Jiminy Cricket in the 1940 Disney animated classic Pinocchio. It definitely sums up the dreams of a three-year-old boy in Florida wishing for a fiddle. Mr. Jukebox by Joshua Hedley is destined to be a country music classic, earning its place in the catalog of the Great American Songbook. Hedley was honored with the distinction to be the first country artist signed to Jack White’s Third Man Records since Margo Price in 2015, so you can order the record from Third Man or elsewhere now. —by Lisa Whealy.
April 24—Nashville, TN—The Basement East
April 27—Indio, CA—Stagecoach Festival
April 30—West Hollywood, CA—The Roxy
May 1—Los Angeles, CA—Hi Hat
May 3—Evanston, IL—SPACE
May 4—Minneapolis, MN—7th St Entry
May 5—Davenport, IA—Raccoon Motel
August 2–5—Happy Valley, OR—Pickathon
and more at his website.