When it got here time for Joshua Hedley to start work on his second album, the polished Nineties nation homage Neon Blue, the neo-traditionalist had just one tenet: make a file to be performed on a pontoon boat.
“After these final couple years we’ve had, I felt like I didn’t wish to dangle my sad-sack, typical model on folks,” Hedley says. ‘I wished to make a file that folks might get together to.”
A part of this was an artist’s need to keep away from self-repetition. Hedley’s 2018 debut, Mr. Jukebox, was a melancholy, studied interpretation on Sixties countrypolitan that leaned heavy on ballads. This time, the strolling country-music encyclopedia wished to deal with a wholly completely different subset of the umbrella style. “Let’s have enjoyable — that turned an edict for us,” says Skylar Wilson, who co-produced Neon Blue with Jordan Lehning. “We simply didn’t wish to make a bummer album.”
For the change of tempo, Hedley turned towards the hard-charging, fiddle-heavy sounds of Nineties nation singers like Alan Jackson and Joe Diffie, whose demise from Covid in 2020 Hedley cites as the first inspiration for Neon Blue. The album, out on New West Data, is a curious and regarded celebration of nation music from the late Eighties to mid Nineties. The stuttering stomp of “Broke Once more” evokes Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” and the fiddle intro to “The Final Factor within the World” calls to thoughts Rodney Crowell’s “I Couldn’t Depart You If I Tried,” whereas “Bury Me With My Boots On” is all Brooks & Dunn bravado.
Neon Blue marks the newest second for the continued important and industrial resurgence of the Nineties Nashville sound. In the previous couple of years, singers like Kane Brown, Jon Pardi, and Carly Pearce have tapped into the tones of such icons as Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, and Lee Ann Womack, streaming firms have invested within the period’s nostalgia, and left-of-center singer-songwriters like Sam Outlaw, American Aquarium, and Izaak Opatz have all paid homage to the last decade’s industrial hitmakers on their very own data. The Grand Ole Opry simply introduced its personal “Opry Loves the ’90s” programming for 2022, however the pattern has been brewing for a while. Again in 2018, Walker Hayes turned the period’s most traditional hits right into a cheeky homage known as “90’s Nation” (“You make me really feel like Nineties nation,” goes the refrain).
And most noticeably? Fiddle is again. It’s throughout Neon Blue. Jenee Fleenor, the three-time CMA Musician of the Yr, was recruited to play on Hedley’s newest. “I keep in mind getting employed to play on classes [ten years ago] the place folks would say, ‘We wish fiddle to be on this, however we simply need lengthy notes and nothing to stay out on the monitor,” she says. “These days are a lot completely different, and a variety of the tracks I play on now are very fiddle-forward… I believe we’re in a spot now the place persons are longing to listen to these conventional sounds once more.”
Hedley’s personal relationship with the time interval has been long-evolving. Rising up in Florida, he was already taking part in fiddle by the point he entered grade faculty within the early Nineties and commenced performing with older musicians, lots of whom disdained the industrial nation of the Nineties.
Taking a cue from his elders, Hedley himself handled nation radio hits on the time with skepticism, but he related with a sure subset of the period’s Nashville stars. “I used to be a Joe Diffie man, however I wasn’t a Kenny Chesney man,” as he places it. As he received older, he started to study concerning the radical manufacturing of artists like Shania Twain, and lately he’s come to respect the total scope of the period’s musicianship and songcraft.
Neon Blue is merely the newest broadening within the singer’s studious mastery of the all-encompassing style. (Don’t name Hedley something however a rustic singer, as he warns within the album monitor “Nation & Western.”)
“So long as it’s nation music,” says Wilson, “Josh can are available and simply do it.” When Fleenor seen that Hedley had a Bob Wills tattoo on the again of his hand, her jaw dropped. “[Josh] stated, ‘I do know Bob Wills’ music just like the again of my hand!” she says.
Lengthy earlier than Hedley settled on the group of songs that might turn into Neon Blue, he and Wilson had been sifting by the catalogs of Nashville legends like Harlan Howard searching for hardly ever heard gems, with the concept to make an album much more traditionally minded than Mr. Jukebox. They scrapped that when New West approached Hedley with the provide of a deal.
“When New West requested me to make a file, clearly my first thought was, ‘Holy shit, sure,’” Hedley says. “After which, instantly, my second thought was, ‘Shit, I don’t have any fucking songs or concepts.’”
For inspiration, Hedley turned to songwriter Carson Chamberlain, who co-wrote tunes by Alan Jackson and John Michael Montgomery. He, in flip, related Hedley with a bunch of youthful songwriters named Wyatt McCubbin and Zach Prime. Numerous mixtures of these 4 writers banged out the eleven Neon Blue originals, with no track taking greater than half-hour to write down.
By the point Hedley arrived on the studio with a set of acoustic worktapes, the musicians assembled all understood the task with out even having to call it.
“We by no means even needed to say ‘Nineties,’” Wilson says. “We didn’t actually need to push arduous to be quote unquote ‘Nineties.’ The fabric was already there.”
Hedley sees the Nineties revival as a mixture of nostalgia, a generational altering of the guard, the straightforward passing of sufficient time to make 1995 really feel like a totally bygone period, and a commentary on what he views because the unhappy state of up to date nation music. He thinks the pattern is just going to rise from right here, and hopes that Neon Blue performs some half in that ongoing resurgence.
Nonetheless, he maintains that one want: “I hope folks play it actually loud on their boats this summer time.”