There’s an old saying that goes “what’s old is new again,” and with music that is often the case. There are very few new ideas, everything is filtered by the music of the past. Most artists take that and move the ball forward, but others take that notion and inject every bit of their art with classic sounds, images and hallmarks. Such is the case with Josh Hedley and Charley Crockett. Two neo-classic country crooners creating buzz in 2018 by originally emulating 1958. When paired with acts such as Leon Bridges, Paul Cauthen, Jaime Wyatt and Zephaniah O’Hara there’s a market and resurgence for this brand of music. This isn’t playing dress-up either. These acts are the real deal. Throw in the 70’s disco infused kitsch of Kacey Musgraves and you’ve got one hell of a festival bill.
What makes these artists so unique isn’t just their retro-infused stylings, it’s the way they stay true to themselves and are authentically making this music. This is what speaks to them, and in turn speaks to all of us. These are not artists chasing trends or radio; they’re going where the music leads them, even if that destination is a long forgotten soundscape.
Hedley has much in common with last year’s country throwback O’Hara. Whereas O’Hara plies his trade from New York, Hedley has been woodshedding in the clubs of Nashville for years. Knocking around town playing covers and originals that all retain a common thread: old school. This is the music of Nudie suits and Cadillacs the size of boats. It’s pre-Chet Atkins Nashville Sound and post Hank Williams. That sweet spot where the music grew beyond rural boundaries and themes, bu had not yet begun to chase pop idolatry. Hedley’s voice echoes the strains of legends past while remaining purely his own.
Charley Crockett is a throwback of the same vintage as Hedley, but with a style that’s more swing and jazz influenced. This is Bob Wills come Otis Redding. When people have been asking me about him, I’ve been turning a phrase similar to “If Leon Bridges made country music.” I can’ think of a way to more succinctly summarize Crockett’s artistry than that. Fort Worth’s Bridges is dropping his second album this week and early returns are that he is building on his 2015 debut by mining more of the same throwback soul wattage while pairing it with some California Marvin Gaye grooves.
All of this music is being released and celebrated in 2018. It’s been interesting and exhilarating to see artists project outward by digging into their roots. I can’t recommend each of the artists listed in this piece enough.