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Mr Jukebox (Third Man)

He has for heart aches by the number and troubles by the score. She’s leaving him today. And lord you better believe he is crying a million tears. Yes ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming, tip your waiter on your way out, and while Joshua Hedley will be playing in Australia in July, we can all see that this is not just an album which could have come out in 1962, it is an album which refuses to acknowledge that it isn’t 1962.

The sound of the pedal steel-and-piano band, and the occasional swell of the strings; the tone of the gentle but steady voice, and masculine backing vocals (with occasional cooing women in the background); the sweetness of the sentiment, and the depth of the pain; the times when things get jaunty for heels lightly kicking up some dust, and many moments when unabashed (bruised, lonely, bewildered and all but despairing) hearts are worn on the sleeve.

Add to that the title track’s appropriation of the jukebox as the consoling friend (in swing time); the ex who is now wearing another man’s ring; a man who has “a rambling fever down in my bones” but is never alone on the road; the character who has discovered pride at last and declares “this time is the last time that I’m leaving/And this time for the first time I won’t care”; another who is having a secret affair in a small town; and a place where “if these walls could talk I be they’d sing a song”.

Oh yes, I can’t forget a spoken word section in one song to emphasise just how much feelingly feeling is being felt here, and a countrypolitan take on When You Wish Upon A Star. Country music golden years bingo!

So, yes, if you’re thinking Ray Price and George Jones, Willie Nelson when he had short hair and Elvis when he had the Jordanaires, you’d be right in the ballpark. And the easy route would be to see this as a parody, an all too knowing piss take as colourful as the Nudie-style suit Joshua Hedley wears on the cover.

No one acts like this or releases records like this anymore, certainly not outside the late-night channel box sets presented in lengthy ads by former stars who are now marvels of plastic surgery and formaldehyde. You. Cannot. Be. Serious.

But there is nothing but sincerity in it. This is weird to believe, yes, and it doesn’t mean we are to ignore the implied humour in some of the obvious detours that love and songs take – while remembering that humour, like wordplay, have always been part of the best country music.

However, Hedley is fully invested in it and not only do you have to admire that commitment and respect the attention to detail, you recognise that just about any song here would have been snapped up back in the day by any publisher keen on getting a star turn on Midwestern Hayride or a lot of spins on the Grand Ole Opry radio show.

What’s more Hedley has the kind of voice you can listen to for much, much longer than the 29 minutes (yes, it’s that short - another reminder this is not a real 2018 album) offered in these ten songs. It just pours over your eardrums.

So fair warning: if you are in any way susceptible to the weepy ballad, the earnest love song, the twangy road song, the more bitten than bitter after-she’s-gone number, a happy drinking song, a sad drinking song, or a bit of a two-step on a wooden dancefloor, Mr Jukebox could be your drug of choice.

Joshua Hedley Australian tour

Leadbelly, Sydney, July 19; Marrickville Bowling Club, July 20; Bridge Hotel, Castlemaine, July 21; Northcote Social Club, July 22; Caravan Music Club, Oakleigh South, July 26; Groundwater Country Music Festival, Broadbeach, July 27-29

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