Joshua Hedley already has our anticipation sky high for his debut record Mr. Jukebox to be released April 20th via Third Man Records after years of playing traditional country music at Robert’s Western World on lower Broadway in Nashville, and from showing up on the recordings and tours of other important Nashville independent stars. The wait seemed like forever to get news on Hedley’s big label debut, and now April can’t get here soon enough.
Hedley stoked anticipation even more when he released the title track to the record, and despite concerns from some that perhaps he would go off in some different direction now that he’s finally receiving the opportunity he deserves, “Mr. Jukebox” was very solidly country. But it’s not just the music, and the potential Joshua Hedley has exhibited over the years that has folks frothing with anticipation over his new record. It’s his willingness to say what needs to be said about the music.
“It’s not a throwback,” Hedley said when his new album was first announced. “It sounds new because it is new, and it sounds the way it sounds because it’s the only thing I know how to do. I can’t write a song that sounds different. Classic country is like a suit. Nothing about a men’s suit has changed in like 100 years. Classic never goes out of style. Something can’t be a throwback if it’s never been out of style.”
This was like candy to the ears of country music fans who are looking for champions in artists who are unwilling to compromise their sound and style for the commercial interests prevalent in Nashville.
“I just want people to remember they have feelings, and that they’re valid,” Hedley continued. “Not everything is Coors Light and tailgates. There are other aspects of life that aren’t so great that people experience. They’re part of life, part of what shapes people. And that’s worth noting.”
Then on Monday (2-19), Joshua Hedley went even further to explain his devotion to the music, and his understanding of just how the term “country” is being eroded and exploited by folks who want to relegate actual country music to other terms.
“I play country music,” Hedley said. “Not alt-country, not ameripolitan, not americana, not trad-country, not neo folk outlaw whatever made up thing, none of that. Country music. It’s not a dirty word. I am a country singer, I sing country music. Period.”
Though there’s nothing wrong with other genres of music that are not country, or other types of country that are not right down the middle like alt-country or Americana—or even organizations that are doing their level best to support the music that the mainstream industry is gazing over like Ameripolitan or the Americana Music Association—support for these organizations or terms should never be in lieu of giving up the fight over what country music is, and what the term “country” means. It’s not their term. “Country” is our term. It’s a word owned by the people of country music, as opposed to an industry that would abscond with it and use it for their own commercial purposes.
True country music should never be forced into adopting prefixes, suffixes, or portmanteaus to explain itself. It should be the others who are straying away from the true sounds of country that should be tasked with finding new terms, and new avenues to promote it. Because the term “country” means something, and too often these days what it means, and what you hear are two completely different things.