Album Review – Joshua Hedley’s “Neon Blue”
He’s known as Mr. Jukebox. Some also consider him the Mayor of Lower Broadway—a moniker he’s earned from his long-term residency at Robert’s Western World in Nashville. He’s the fiddle-playing, honky-tonk singing, country music lifer originally from Florida named Joshua Hedley, and he knows the in’s and out’s of country music more than most from having devoted his life to hours upon hours of performances on the Robert’s Western World stage.
With his 2018 album Mr. Jukebox, Joshua Hedley put on a veritable clinic of classic country music making in the modern context, throwing it back to the Golden Era of country in a way that got everything so eerily correct, from the tone of the guitars, to the inflections in the turns of phrases, to the stitching on his Nudie suit. It was certainly a niche project, and more imitative than original. But it underscored Hedley’s mastery as an interpreter of older country music.
Four years have passed since, with some fans becoming restless for more of Hedley’s classic country crooning, but he’s thrown a curve ball by contemporizing his approach in those four years by some four decades on his new album Neon Blue. As Joshua Hedley explains, the 90s were really the last era when a listener could turn on the radio and distinctly hear the difference between the country station and everything else. So that is the era he’s embraced this time.
90s country also happens to be really hot at the moment as both the beneficiary of the 25-year retro/nostalgia cycle, and the era many listeners are seeking refuge in as modern country continues to underserve the public. Just as expertly attentive and intentional in getting every single detail to the era exactly correct as his previous record, Joshua Hedley delivers a transportive and immersive experience on Neon Blue like few others, spiriting the listener to a country music era decidedly cooler than our current one.
Simply put, Neon Blue is a blast of a listen. It’s not just the nostalgic joy you get from songs like “Neon Blue” and “Broke Again” that come straight out of the Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn era, it’s the type of simple, almost innocent sentimentality found in the writing of songs like “Free” and “Found in a Bar” that bring an immediate fondness to this music touched by memory and just a hint of melancholy.
And though the 90s had a distinct sound that was born off the picking of guys like guitar player Brent Mason and steel player Paul Franklin, it was also the last era when you’d hear a country song that sounded like it could have been written many years previous. So when it comes to songwriting, “90s country” really encapsulates a much broader era of influence.
Aside from the pure songwriters of our era such as Arlo McKinley or John R. Miller, those best at making modern country music understand that country is inherently cliché. As opposed to fighting this, they embrace it, work within that limitation, and exploit it for the entertainment value and insight that can be found there. That’s one of the many things Josh Hedley does on Neon Blue that makes this album not just another throwback country record. It’s patently self-aware, and smart in how it approaches otherwise overused, and overwrought themes.
On Neon Blue, Josh Hedley proves he’s not just “Mr. Jukebox,” or a perennial Lower Broadway entertainer. As he sings on the second track on this record, “I’m a singing professor, of Country and Western.” Deeply studied and truly gifted to express the host of styles that comprise the broad and omnivorous 90s country era, Joshua Hedley has made himself into a modern country marvel, capable of taking up any piece of music from any country music era, and making it sing.
Bravo, Mr. Hedley.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.5/10)
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Purchase from New West Records
Purchase from Amazon
April 22, 2022 @ 8:13 am
I dig this. I will have to buy this.
April 22, 2022 @ 1:24 pm
I hope you have a permit to “dig” it.
April 22, 2022 @ 8:14 am
This was a perfect explanation of this album. Couldn’t wait to listen to it today. Bought the vinyl even though I don’t have a player. Enjoyed the heck out of it.
April 22, 2022 @ 8:26 am
I bought this on pre-order based on the first single alone. I’m glad to hear it sounds exactly how I wanted it to!!
April 22, 2022 @ 8:29 am
Like this guy.
He has rhythm.
Like his band too, on Neon Blue.
ESPECIALLY Like the clean production.
Why does 95% of everything coming out of Nashville, sound like crap – production wise?(never mind the rest of the reason)
If it ain’t broke, don’t get in there and “fix” it.
April 22, 2022 @ 8:49 am
Spot on review, Trig.
Been waiting for more music from Joshua for a long time – this style isn’t what I’d imagined we’d get after his first (terrific) album, but this will still get plenty of playtime from me.
April 22, 2022 @ 9:05 am
Well it’s new release Friday morning and I was looking for something fresh and this really hit the spot!!! Great review and story Trig, obviously this guy has been out there every night honing his chops and paying is dues. I love it on first listen. Very smooth……… A+
April 22, 2022 @ 9:14 am
One of the best country albums I’ve heard in a while. Takes a lot to really grab me like this album has. Can’t remember the last one that did. Gonna have to pick up the vinyl.
Gonna be sippin’ a few on the porch tonight while it plays.
April 22, 2022 @ 9:41 am
Album of the Year so far for me
April 22, 2022 @ 10:12 am
Hopefully the 25 year nostalgia cycle will skip the bro era, but the 90s sound good here.
(Still) The Ghost Of OlaR
April 22, 2022 @ 11:26 am
OlaR: well…not bad
SCM Choir: what the f***
OlaR: too country
SCM Choir: grumpy OlaR is back
OlaR: it’s 2022 not 1995
SCM Choir: listen to your obscure country stuff from down under & leave us alone
OlaR: before i forget…must listen to the new Katie Brooke album…
SCM Choir: pretty sure the Katy Brook album is muucchhh better than Neon Blue…
OlaR: Katie Brooke…
SCM Choir: whatever
No…it’s all good.
Neon Blue is a great album. Joshua Hedley understands the era & what made ’90s country special. It’s not just another throwback album.
– More Good (?) Music:
Katie Brooke – Sticks, Stones & Stories – Album (10 Tracks) – Released (04/22)
Katie Brooke released an EP in 2020 with one of my favourite tracks of the year (“This Road Is Mine”).
She sings with a lot of tremolo. You can hear it on the EP…on the new album it becomes annoying. While i love “Wanted Man” & like some of the other tracks i had to push the skip button more than once. “Turning Of The Wheel” & “Crooked Teeth” might end on my playlist.
Sticks…is an o.k. album. That’s it.
April 22, 2022 @ 11:32 am
Even the misspelling & correction. : D
You know we love ya.
April 22, 2022 @ 11:38 am
Just gave that Katie Brooke album a listen. Awful stuff, the drum machine track is unbearable.
April 22, 2022 @ 11:31 am
I think your review of the album is spot-on and if you’re fan of good 90’s country, then you will love this. I do take slight issue with something you said, though. You wrote, “…those best at making modern country music understand that country is inherently cliché. As opposed to fighting this, they embrace it, work within that limitation, and exploit it for the entertainment value and insight that can be found there.”
I think what the last decade or so of the emergence of really good indie artists in the country/Americana realm is the exact opposite of this. Artists like Arlo McKinley, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childress, Brandi Carlise, Ian Noe, and so many others who we can name, have showed us that country music can be elevated by great songwriting, album conceptions, authentic musical compositions, etc. They have shown us that country music doesn’t have to be cliche’, it can be something better, something more artistic and valuable, the same way artists like Willie, Waylon, Johnny Cash, and many others did in the 60s and 70s and 80s.
I’m not saying that 90s style of country is bad or that this album isn’t worth listening to; it’s all personal preference, and of course with the artists I’ve named, there can be debates about what is country versus what isn’t, and there can be critiques of their political stances and how that affects who their music reaches. I just don’t think country music has to be cliche’ and basic and simple-I think it can be something more, which has proven by so many artists that this site has reviewed over the years.
April 22, 2022 @ 1:40 pm
That’s why I mentioned Arlo McKinley and John R. Miller as examples of songwriters that are an exception to that rule. I was more referring to artists like Mike and the Moonpies and Charley Crockett who like Joshua Hedley embrace the cliche of country well.
April 23, 2022 @ 6:56 am
The problem with some of these artists is that the cliche comes off as imitation rather than taking the standard sound and providing a new twist. It can become sterile sounding and lacking in originality. While I like the music of Hedley and Crockett, they and many other are almost interchangeable. Whereas Mike and The Moonpies, the other artist you mentioned here is quite a different case with their ability to take those standard Texas Country and Honkey Tonk sounds and add their own modern twist to create something both recognizable, but also new and exciting.
April 22, 2022 @ 1:26 pm
This was a true country album. Reminds me of the shit I’d hear on the radio in the late-1940s and early-1950s. Hope to hear more from this young man in the future.
April 22, 2022 @ 1:34 pm
This guy took to Instagram to say that if you voted for Trump, he doesn’t want you as a fan and not to listen to his music. Seems like an insufferable dude. I’m not a Trump fan either but man, that makes him seem like the whinest guy out there. If he was as big as Isbell, then he would be more annoying.
April 22, 2022 @ 2:38 pm
He’s definitely annoying on social media (I hate both sides), but I have no problem separating artist from their art.
King Honky Of Crackershire
April 22, 2022 @ 4:43 pm
Hello that guy,
Behold, the American hipster. All hipsters are communists. It’s surprising to still run across folks who don’t realize that.
What really gets me though, is the lack of awareness on the hipster’s part. The hipster holds some level of affinity for rural America’s culture, but hates rural Americans. The hipster unwittingly bends over backwards to posture as a hillbilly for city slickers. It’s such a strange phenomenon, the hipster.
April 22, 2022 @ 5:33 pm
Always with the black pill that might actually be the red pill with you.
April 22, 2022 @ 5:37 pm
Let’s remember that this is a music website and this is a music review. Let’s try to keep the commentary on the music itself as opposed to extraneous stuff that is often polarizing and just results in meaningless back and forths.
April 22, 2022 @ 7:48 pm
Unfortunately, if we abide by Hedley’s wishes, most country music fans won’t even get the chance to listen to the music itself!
April 22, 2022 @ 8:21 pm
@ that guy.
So, ignore him, just listen to his music.
Indulge me here, for a moment.
A very dear friend, tried to pull that crap last year.
Actually, told me that if i voted for Trump, i was not invited to a surprise party for a dear swimming coach who was retiring. My friend flew in from Hawaii, just for the party.
He was lucky i didn’t fly to Honolulu, & track him down at the University of Hawaii, just to slap the hell out of him, for making such a juvenile & disgustingly immature statement.
For the record, no one knows who i voted for, or if i even bothered
April 23, 2022 @ 7:54 am
I understand that. And if Joshua Hedley had asked my advice, I would tell him to not make such polarizing statements, and choose his words more wisely. I want people who disagree with me to be in the audience of my words in hopes they would be persuaded to my side. But understand that as soon as you broach a subject such as this, it becomes the focal point of these conversations. Look what “Working Hard To Maintain An Open Mind” says below. I quite literally lose readers and commenters all of the time because of off-topic tangents like this. Joshua Hedley isn’t the one being injured here, Saving Country Music is.
King Honky Of Crackershire
April 23, 2022 @ 10:51 am
I understand your position, although I don’t believe you lose readers in any significant amount, due to the comments section. I think weak-minded people threaten to stop reading so that you’ll kowtow to their demands and complaints. Those people are cut from the same cloth as the cowards who make death threats. I also believe the threats you receive are mostly politically driven themselves.
I simply refuse to believe that the majority of people want a sanitary comments section.
I said all that to say this. If someone genuinely hates any and all political discussion, that’s fine; I can’t relate, but to each their own; what I take issue with, is the notion that folks like me who make comments of a political nature from time to time, do so for the purpose of being offensive. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
April 24, 2022 @ 7:20 am
There is no way for me to reply to King Hokies comment above to you Trig, but let me say, You are correct when you say that because of the politically divisive nature of some of the commenters on here, that certain people (like me) have stopped visiting the site as regularly, commenting, or even reading the comments as regularly, mainly because there are certain people on here that insist on making everything political. I wish the “snowflakes“ and “Trumpeteers” would both shut the hell up so we could focus on the music, the reason we are supposedly here.
Trig, thanks again for all the great music you have introduced me to. I’ll be checking this guy out because the music sounds great. And I don’t care what his views represent. In fact I agree with you on that as well, most of these artists should probably keep their personal life and political views to themselves. I just want to hear the tunes.
April 25, 2022 @ 4:40 am
I can 100% support JH’s wish for people like me not buy or listen to his album. Words have consequences.
April 25, 2022 @ 7:33 am
First, I have yet to see anyone provide a specific quote or link to where Joshua Hedley said this. I’m not saying he didn’t, because I know he’s made political statements on social media in the past. But everyone’s just taking it as a given based off of what someone said in this comments section. When did he say it? Was it taken out of context? Sturgill Simpson DID say this exact same thing, and we have video evidence of it, and I’ve seen less blowback on him than what I’ve seen with Hedley here. If he said it, does he still believe it today? Was it said in anger after Trump said something dumb? Either way, it has nothing to do with the music.
April 25, 2022 @ 7:56 am
What does how Rolling Stone or American Songwriter helps market grievance have to do with the music?
April 25, 2022 @ 8:43 am
Good question. As I said in the Maren Morris review, the fact that outlets were dredging up 3-year-old narratives to market the music of Maren Morris proved that her music didn’t have a compelling narrative of its own, which very much has to do with the music.
April 25, 2022 @ 1:53 pm
Yeah, it’s a telling anecdote. An artist from a traditionally rural genre proclaiming he doesn’t want much of the people from that demographic listening to his MUSIC, seems more relevant than the urban laptop activists angle on Maren Morris though.
If true, of course.
April 25, 2022 @ 2:15 pm
But is it true? I’m still waiting to see the actual quote, a link to it, a screenshot, anything. Did he delete it? Is he being paraphrased? Did he even say it? What was the context? I went looking for it and couldn’t find it. All that I could pull up in reference to Joshua Hedley saying this was this comments section. Not saying he didn’t say it, but I would sure like to see some evidence. Seems like a lot of bluster and discussion over something nobody can verify. I can verify what Rolling Stone and American Songwriter said. I guess I’m supposed to write this review taking into consideration something Hedley might have said that I wasn’t even alerted to until after the review was written, and that potentially is fiction, or outright false. Maybe he did say it. Still waiting…
April 25, 2022 @ 2:45 pm
Nobody suggested you write the review that way, but you immediately shut down the claim with the reasoning that it has “nothing to do with the music,” not because it was hearsay. I do agree with you, that guy should at least explain, if not provide evidence. Personally I wound not know how to verify something like that, probably because its not my job.
April 27, 2022 @ 8:57 pm
It’s true. I was an ardent supporter of Josh even despite our political differences but his and many other statements around the last election made me decide that I needed to stop going to shows. I even quit going to see my favorite band because of their political statements. Politics has always been a part of country music but the division is hurting the genre more than just about anything right now.
Here’s a link. I remember Josh posting a similar statement to his Instagram story and it may have just been a screenshot of this tweet. https://twitter.com/JoshuaHedley/status/1277298200823705601
April 23, 2022 @ 1:20 pm
Who cares. 80% of independent country music is made by east Nashville liberal hipsters. Doesn’t mean it’s not good. Doesn’t mean they haven’t struggled in life and paid their dues. Hell, Merle Haggard probably got called Communist trash for songs like Irma Jackson and The Immigrant
April 23, 2022 @ 5:46 pm
Imagine Willie Nelson making a ridiculous statement like that. He wont. Willie is smarter than that, back in the day in Texas, there were cowboys, hippies and bikers at his shows, and word on the street is they managed to be civil to each other, at least at Willies shows. Music has the power to bring people together. I guarantee a large percentage of the folks coming into Roberts think differently than Hedley. He ought to rethink his position carefully. That should be easy to grasp on a simple economic level.
April 25, 2022 @ 9:10 am
Kevin that’s a good point. It’s funny that someone who self admitted he recently came off a 2 year bender would feel he’s in any kind of place to lecture people on their political beliefs. Regardless of whether he has backtracked on those beliefs, he hasn’t issued any statement recanting those remarks. No one is obligated to listen to, or financially support any artist. It’s hard enough to dredge thru modern music to find anything worth listening to. If someone is blatant enough in their beliefs to tell me not to listen to their music, I’m not contributing to the division by simply saying “ok.”
April 25, 2022 @ 7:57 am
I’m fine with not listening to Sturgill again either if he said it. I have no issue listening to artists whose views I personally disagree with. I have a huge issue with listening to artists, especially ones that are not at the top of my favorites list, who are bold enough to tell half the country to not listen to them because they themselves are in the middle of a “temper tantrum.”
John R Baker
April 25, 2022 @ 1:25 pm
The irony of people bitching about people who have opinions that they don’t like bitching about people who have opinions they don’t like is pretty meta.
April 25, 2022 @ 1:39 pm
The problem with Hedley is that he didn’t just say he didn’t like Trump, it’s that he took a shot at every single person who did. He asked those who voted for him not to be his fan. That’s the problem. I couldn’t care less what his politics are but he specifically asked for his fans not to be Republicans. Again, sorry Trig for getting into politics here (which I hate doing. This is going to be my last comment)
April 22, 2022 @ 2:02 pm
Just can’t get into this. His vocals have never clicked with me. Glad other folks are into it though.
April 22, 2022 @ 5:30 pm
Album is great and although I’m more of a Charley Crockett fan, I’m enjoying this one more today.
My Last lie Sounds a lot like George Straits She Told Me So.
April 22, 2022 @ 5:41 pm
This should absolutely be in the lead for album of the year. Waiting on my Fried Bologna vinyl to be delivered!
Working Hard at Maintaining an Open Mind
April 22, 2022 @ 9:18 pm
Let me start of by saying that I really appreciate the Saving Country Music site and am very grateful for all of the really great music that Trig has made me aware of by sharing with us his exceptionally good taste in music. But…I can’t continue to read the comment sections any longer. I mean really, what is the point for having the comment sections? Why does this extraneous, unnecessary part of the website continue to happen? The comments have been co-opted by folks who have agendas that have nothing to do with the subject of the post, or for that matter, Country Music. The comments seem to have devolved into – and been manipulated by – personalities who have a compulsion for (figuratively) flapping their jaw, turning what should be a shared love of music into a pissing match to see who can be the most offensive, which the negativity then permeates and simmers through the rest of us. For the time being I’ll still look forward to Trig’s postings, but I will read no farther.
April 23, 2022 @ 6:12 am
I too love the site and everything Trigger does to promote good country music. Sometimes the comments section turns into a sh*t show for sure. However,please don’t take away the comments section. When the. Moments focus In music there can be some real valuable insights and I have found other artists just from them being mentioned in the comments.
April 23, 2022 @ 8:04 am
I am not going to take away the comments section, and in fact, I think things have been much more civil around here lately, and it’s very few comments sections that turn polarizing, though it seems to go in waves. I have not seen the post by Joshua Hedley in question. It’s my job as a critic to ignore all the extraneous noise, and simply focus on the music. My request is that everyone do the same. Working Hard At Maintaining An Open Mind’s comment is not isolated. I get these comments all the time, mostly privately, and often people telling me they’re ditching reading the website entirely specifically because of the comments sections. And then people wonder why when comments go off on total political tangents, I take issue with it. It’s imperative that we all as a community make sure we keep the discussion on topic. Sometimes it’s necessary to post an article of a political nature, and the discussion will veer in that direction. But for an album review such as this, it should never happen. And yes, Joshua Hedley and other artists who make polarizing political statements don’t help this matter. But I can’t control that. All we can do is control how the discussion goes here.
April 23, 2022 @ 12:56 am
Yeah, glad people like it, but not buying the whole “country music is clichéd” thing.
It was only the other day we were dissecting Chatahoochee and finding it was built with some clever words.
I like to think of country music as something honest, not mess of overused poetic license.
All through the 90s even Garth had great story songs, good words and sometimes even realistic.
April 23, 2022 @ 8:05 am
I’m not saying that cliche means you can’t be clever. In fact, I’m saying the opposite. When you work within the limitations of cliche and are still clever or “fresh,” it makes it that much more entertaining, because it’s that much more difficult.
April 23, 2022 @ 2:10 am
Neon , for example, is a country lyrics “cliche'”( neon moon; neon rainbow etc.) and i understand what Trig means.
Almost half of the world neon comes from Ukraine and Russia, so this album title is timely right!
April 23, 2022 @ 10:38 am
Great album. Was lucky enough to catch him at the Ryman in ‘17
April 23, 2022 @ 6:17 pm
If Joshua keeps putting out theme albums like this, sign me up, I will be there for the entire ride! This album is epitomized by the track “Down to My Last Lie”. Man, what a song, immediately singalong-able after just a couple of listens and completelly embodies the cheatin’, drinkin’, etc songs of yesteryear, not just the 90’s. Excellent album!
April 23, 2022 @ 7:25 pm
I’d like to see a review of Tenille Townes new ep. It’s really unique and different that most country music in it’s lyrical depth
April 24, 2022 @ 12:04 pm
Excellent album! Thanks for putting this album on my radar with your review. Just ordered the vinyl, good stuff!
April 25, 2022 @ 9:25 am
Ol’ Head is a smug douchebag in real life. I’m amazed there haven’t been more stories exposing his behavior. I guess Nashville hipsters protect their own (until they don’t).
April 25, 2022 @ 12:13 pm
Amen! Didn’t even see this until after my post. I’m glad it’s becoming more known how much of a hipster douchebag with a bad attitude this clown is.
May 11, 2022 @ 11:39 am
With my limited experience with him I would agree he’s a tool. Went to Robert’s and had a “Make America Florida” t-shirt on (ok ok not so subtle) had a great time with the customers many taking photos with me and Ol Josh just couldn’t leave it alone. Couple of cracks from the stage I get, but he just wouldn’t let it go…ragging on FL, me, how much he hated living there, what a redneck place ad nauseum…to the point I avoid Roberts anytime he’s there. Which is sad, Roberts is my favorite place to go (other than AJs to see Rooster Brown) and I like his music. But never again…
April 25, 2022 @ 12:10 pm
Pass. This guy has your typical stuck up hipster attitude in droves. Met him when he played fiddle for that Corndawg garbage. Hipster country needs to go. Haven’t heard much about Romano or Corndawg so maybe it’s already on it’s way out. At least Hedley walks the walk when it comes to looking like and being your typical cliche bearded hipster with a holier-than-thou 2hip4u attitude. I hope him and his crowd find a new genre to parody so I can buy used country records for a dollar again. Don’t even get me started on reissue prices now that liking classic country for ironic purposes (what the fuck?) has cemented itself as a hip thing to do. What a blight upon the genre I dearly love.
April 25, 2022 @ 12:44 pm
Johny Fritz hasn’t released an album in six years, and last time I checked was selling real estate in Los Angeles. I’m not sure that’s more relevant to Joshua Hedley playing a residency at Robert’s Western World for the last dozen years.
April 25, 2022 @ 4:49 pm
Hahaha I’m not sure if you’re joking about him selling real estate in LA but it seems very fitting. Thanks for the laugh 🤣 and residency or not hes still a douche. Cheers Trig!
April 25, 2022 @ 5:11 pm
I’m not kidding. You can find advertisements for him on those little dividers you put in between groceries at the supermarket in LA.