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Joshua Hedley

Mr. Jukebox – 2018 (Third Man)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by Joshua Hedley

Apparently someone to forgot to tell Joshua Hedley that country music has passed him by. Where does Hedley, aka apparently known as the Mayor of Lower Broad, come off to incorporating honky tonk, Texas swing, western swing and countrypolitan all in the first three songs of his debut?

There's perhaps no better song that underscores where Hedley is coming from than "Mr. Jukebox" with his swinging fiddle, steel guitar from Eddie Lange and a loping beat. The jukebox is the bar patron's friend - "Johnny's down to his last dime/Still he manages to buy another round/I watch him clinging to the past/As I play there stands the glass" with Hedley crafting relatable imagery and even a wink to the musical past with the Webb Pierce reference.

Hedley slows down the pace with the ballad "Let's Take a Vacation," penned in part with Johnny Fritz. Here, and on each of the 10 songs (Hedley wrote 9 of them), Hedley's lovely lively baritone crafts the perfect sentiment of wanting to do it all over again. Most likely about a relationship, but it also could speak to country fans wanting the real deal.

Fiddle, steel guitar, tic tac bass from Michael Rinne, piano and backing vocal harmonies (the "ah-ah-ahs" and "uuummmm" closing out "This Time") dominate song after song. Producers Skylar Wilson and Jordan Lehning made a lot of ultra smart musical choices in not deviating from their (and presumably Hedley's) musical vision and love of classic country.

Of course, it also helped to have songs built for that sound and someone capable of singing them. Hedley can go tender ("Don't Waste Your Tears") if need be or pick up the pace as well (later in the same song when his voice cracks just a tinge). He merges a jazzy element with country sounds on the closing "When You Wish Upon a Star," from Disney's "Pinocchio." He may not have written the classic, but the words ring true for what Hedley does here in a disc a long time coming - "When you wish upon a star/your dreams come true."

"Mr. Jukebox" resonates so much in terms of looking back it's as if the ghosts of Ray Price and Ernest Tubb were alive and well thank you.

They're not, of course, but Hedley is a most welcome candidate to carry the banner of what country used to be yesterday onwards to tomorrow. Hedley has made the perfect album of what used to be called country music. That's not what country has devoluted into today, but with Hedley leading the way, country's finest days could still be ahead.