Joshua Hedley - Neon Blue Music Album Reviews

Joshua Hedley - Neon Blue Music Album Reviews
The Nashville songwriter brings country back to the barroom on a vibrant set that pays tribute to ’90s stars like Brooks & Dunn and Garth Brooks.

Call Neon Blue a throwback to the boot-scootin’ days of the 1990s, if you must. Certainly, Nashville-based country singer Joshua Hedley welcomes such comparisons, kicking off his second record with “Broke Again,” a breakneck boogie with a stuttering chorus that splits the difference between Brooks & Dunn and Garth Brooks—superstars who pushed country music into stadiums in the ’90s without entirely abandoning the hardscrabble spirit of honky tonk.

Hedley makes no bones about being well-versed in the genre’s history. In the second track on Neon Blue, he calls himself “a singing professor of country and western,” resuscitating a phrase that fell out of favor sometime in the late 1960s—a bygone era Hedley expertly evoked on his 2018 Third Man debut, Mr. Jukebox. That record positioned Hedley as an unabashed revivalist, crafting a meticulous, loving re-creation of the heyday of the Nashville Sound, layering supple strings and vocal harmonies over the steady clomp of tic-tac bass. It was the kind of exercise that proves the thesis he offers “Country & Western”: Hedley knows his chosen genre so well that he could construct an exact replica of a certain era if he so chooses.

This time around, Hedley cut a record built upon his belief that country music took a sharp left turn somewhere around 1997, abandoning fiddles and steel guitars for shinier electronic accouterments. (Not so coincidentally, this was also the time when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 took hold, governmental deregulation that wound up homogenizing mainstream American music of every genre.) Back in the 1990s, the arena rock moves of Garth Brooks camouflaged the deep, distinct roots in classic country, a lineage that seems more evident in hindsight. On Neon Blue, Hedley starts here in his effort to bring country music back to the barrooms.

Hedley isn’t chasing a sound so much as an aesthetic, distilling country music to its essence: joyous and mournful songs about broken hearts, dead-end jobs, boozing, and loving. He keeps his stakes and sounds modest. Where modern country music is designed to be pumped out of high-end systems at anonymous, brightly-lit sports bars, Hedley is making music for dives. No top shelf liquor or sleek product placements for Hedley: He’s down at the corner beer joint, drinking whatever’s on tap, in the can or in the bottle.

Neon Blue is steeped in the culture of saloons, with barrooms playing a prominent role in most of the record’s 12 songs. Hedley meets a cowgirl at the Broken Spoke; he surveys the crowd at the honky tonk and notes that “The Last Thing in the World” it needs is another broken heart; he asks to be buried underneath a barroom floor with his boots on. He may be drinking his sorrows away, but he also discovers love underneath the warm neon glow, pining for crushes and singing about an old couple who found love in a bar.

Hedley isn’t revealing himself in his lyrics so much as he’s acting as a conduit for the audience, channeling their dashed dreams and wistful hopes along with their desire to cut loose. Like so much great country music, Neon Blue feels like a party, a record so vibrant that it scares off any sadness. Here’s where Hedley’s old-fashioned instincts serve him well. His decision to cut the record the way they did in the old days—hire a couple of veteran producers (in this case, Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson) and round up a bunch of Nashville’s A-team to add flesh and muscle—lets the music breathe, with the backing band following Hedley as he sings sweetly or with a slight sneer. Neon Blue contains no flashy tricks, no excess, but plenty of flair; it’s a joy to hear these pros dig deep into Hedley’s songs (plus a lovely cover of Roger Miller’s “River in the Rain”), swinging hard and delivering their solos with precision.

Contemporary country this unadorned usually gets shuffled over to the Americana classification, a catch-all category containing anything from heartland rockers and sensitive troubadours to swaggering neo-outlaws. Hedley isn’t any of these things. He’s simply a country singer, one who would’ve sounded at home singing in dance halls, honky tonks, and dive bars at any point in the past 60 years. The pleasure of Neon Blue is how Hedley subtly twists country conventions, making retro-minded songs and sounds seem both familiar and fresh. This “professor of country and western” isn’t sharing a stuffy history lesson or reciting facts: He’s absorbed their meaning.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Joshua Hedley - Neon Blue Music Album Reviews Joshua Hedley - Neon Blue Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, May 04, 2022 Rating: 5

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