Joshua Hedley writes immaculate classic country melodies—and lyrics that don’t do them justice | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Joshua Hedley writes immaculate classic country melodies—and lyrics that don’t do them justice

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Mr. Jukebox (Third Man) is the title of the debut album by Nashville singer and fiddler Joshua Hedley, but it’s also his nickname—a walking encyclopedia of country music history, Hedley plays requests at the drop of a cowboy hat. On this album, his devotion to classic country is clear: there’s the faux-Nudie suit he sports on the cover, pitch-perfect arrangements recalling the glory days of producers Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins, and melodies of the kind that George Jones and Conway Twitty would elevate into works of art. But his lyrics—Hedley wrote almost all the songs on Mr. Jukebox—are the weak link. He squanders the clever conceit of the title track, sung from the perspective of an actual jukebox; instead of keenly observed details about who’s feeding him coins and what they’re longing for, he trots out couplets like “If you’ve got a new romance / Well, I’ve got the perfect dance.” Luckily, the record’s sound is gorgeous. The opening track, “Counting All My Tears,” evokes timeless 60s-era Willie Nelson melodies like “Hello Walls” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Hedley has said that he’s not a throwback, because the country he loves has never gone out style; while the Billboard charts might argue otherwise, the appeal of this sound has certainly never diminished.   v

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