Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is a well-worn cliché we’ve heard many times. But it also could be country/honky-tonk crooner/fiddler Joshua Hedley’s motto.
His debut album on Nashville’s Third Man imprint rejoices in the classic sound of 60’s country and countrypolitan with integrity, respect and an unapologetic determination to get it right. He’s a man out of time, a distillation of everything any pure country lover enjoys about the kind of C&W music no longer played on the radio. Hedley marches to the beating heart of Ray Price, Glen Campbell, George Jones and Eddy Arnold mixed with Dwight Yoakam and even the country side of Roy Orbison, all without parody, pretense or smarmy fabrication. With a voice as clear as a mountain stream and nine originals that could have been written yesterday or 50 years ago, this music will light up any room. This sound is so authentic and he owns it with such offhanded charm and confidence that it seems like he went to sleep in 1963 and just woke up.
With songs like “These Walls,” “Don’t Waste Your Tears,” “Mr. Jukebox,” and three that pointedly have the word “tears” in their titles, he focuses on eternal emotions of lost love, losing love, unrequited love, trying to get love back and even one about rejoicing in the glow of found love. In other words, the stuff classics are made of.
This music relishes in lush production flourishes of decades ago, complete with strings, heavenly backing vocals and even the legendary Charlie McCoy’s harmonica, a guy who played on so many of the tunes that have influenced Hedley. Whether it’s the Mexicali inflected waltz time of “Weird Thought Thinker” or the bittersweet ballad “Let’s Take a Vacation” that showcases Hedley’s mellifluous croon and even a spoken word section (another relic of an earlier time), the singer looks to the arrangements you’ll recognize from country music’s glory days, writing perfectly realized originals around them.
Hedley’s a talented fiddle player but he shuns the spotlight in these short, sweet tunes, preferring to use the instrument in conjunction with other backing musicians and in service to the song. A lovely version of the Disney classic “When You Wish Upon a Star,” the disc’s only cover, is a moving tribute to his dad. It closes this impressive debut that at only 10 tracks and barely a half hour leaves you wanting more.