Joshua Hedley is “a singing professor of country & western,” he declares on his raucous and witty new album, Neon Blue. It might sound like a punchline, but it’s not. An ace fiddle player, a sharp guitarist, and a singer with a granite twang, he’s devoted his entire life to the study of this genre. Ask him about it and he’ll explain: “When all my friends went off to college, I went to Nashville. I was 19 years old playing honkytonks and getting an education.” His 2018 debut, Mr. Jukebox, showcased his deep knowledge of country’s history, in particular the beery ballads of the 1950s and ‘60s. His mentors were George Jones, Ray Price, and Glen Campbell, but his most remarkable accomplishment was putting his own spin on their style.
Hedley has been a presence in Nashville for nearly twenty years, although you have to know where to find him. You have to brave the tourists on Broadway, bypass the three-story bars blasting Journey, and make your way to Robert’s Western World, a time-capsule honkytonk from a different era, an oasis in a town where twang is constantly being run down by pedal pubs.That place informed the sound and style of Mr. Jukebox, which introduced him to a wider audience beyond the city limits and established him as one of Nashville’s most knowledgeable and exciting artists.
After making Mr. Jukebox with a loose group of hell-raising friends, Hedley decided to record his follow-up with professional session players—a Nashville tradition. Producers Skylar Wilson (Justin Townes Earle, Lindi Ortega) and Jordan Lehning (Rodney Crowell) corralled an all-star crew featuring some of the city’s best players, who made Hedley step up his game. During the process of co-writing and recording Neon Blue, the singing professor became the student, learning lessons he’ll apply to everything he does next.
People Talk is the album Lauren Morrow was born to create. The Nashville-based, Atlanta-raised singer-songwriter has spent the better part of the last fifteen years cultivating her sound, pouring in a variety of influences, and honing her live show until the sound felt unabashedly her own. After spending more than a decade as the frontwoman of popular Americana band The Whiskey Gentry, Lauren stepped out with a 2018 self-titled debut EP and received widespread acclaim. She landed on many Best Of year end lists from Rolling Stone to Garden & Gun, filmed an episode for PBS’ “Bluegrass Underground” and toured the US playing festivals such as Pickathon and Bristol Rhythm & Roots. However, there were so many parts of her that remained creatively silent through the years. Sure, with her soprano voice and vulnerable vibrato, she could belt a country tune with the best of them. And yes, she could write a fast-paced, witty, Americana banger with the bands she fronted before. But what about all of the influences and truths she knew were untapped? The years of obsessing over 90s Alternative, BritPop and 80s New Wave bands with moody, brutally honest lyrical content and rock n roll attitudes that she so deeply loved? With the encouragement of her husband and business/creative partner, Jason, she mined those memories and dug into the root of who she is, pulling the pieces together to forge sincerity and vulnerability into an uninhibited creative work.
When it came time to write the songs for her first full-length record, Lauren knew she had to find those around her who could pull her out of the Americana rut and inspire her to tap into parts unknown. After moving to Nashville in 2017, both Lauren and Jason found the community they so desperately wanted, including a mental/songwriting guru in producer Parker Cason. “It was the best decision we’ve made. We decided in July 2017 to move and we sold our house, packed our bags, and moved here less than two months later. We met Parker almost immediately, and it felt so kindred to me. I’d finally found someone who understood all of my influences and could really see the vision beyond what I’d done in my prior career.” They began writing and recording the songs for People Talk in 2019. Lauren found herself finally writing the songs she always knew were within her, and together they created a soundscape that reflects her eclectic well of influences and songwriting growth since moving to Nashville.“I used to write stories, made up things about others I’d imagined in my head, but this record is all true to me. There’s not a single lyric that hasn’t happened to me in some shape or form, and I think it’s taken me to this point in my life to be able to articulate it and confidently stand behind the vulnerability of it all, which isn’t easy for me. I didn’t want to be defined anymore by my past musical experiences or feel like I was ‘enough,’ because my past bands didn’t quite ‘make it.’ In my head I was thinking, ‘Geez, she’s in her 30s and releasing a debut record? Shouldn’t she hang it up already? Her time is running out.’ But in reality, I had to silence that negative voice, and let myself show through these songs, and it’s taken all of this time and these experiences to really shape who I am as a human. I feel like I’m just now figuring that out, and now I finally have something to say.”
While recording for People Talk began at Sound Emporium in November 2019, the pandemic put an immediate stop to the record production, forcing Lauren to surrender to the uncontrollable (not an easy task for her) and learn to trust the cosmic alignment that awaited her debut record. It also fully committed Lauren and Jason to their craft – they knew they had a great set of songs and now they had the extra time to fully plan its wealth of soundscapes and its release. They truly learned the meaning behind the word “Hustle,” just like Track 7 on People Talk, implies – they painted houses to make ends meet when touring stopped, took out a second mortgage on their East Nashville home to self fund the release, and even sold a little “Mary Jane” to pay for players on the record and studio time. Determined to never give up on this dream, they made use of every resource and every free minute – they transmuted all of that angst and uncertainty into the originality of this record.
You’ll find even more of these universal truths on People Talk: arguing with a loved one and just wanting the fight to be over (“I’m Sorry”) or doing whatever it takes to live your dreams (“Hustle”) and trying to find whatever brings you peace when you’re having anxiety attacks (“Only Nice When I’m High”) or having to claw your way through self doubt (“Nobody But Me”). “I just want the stories on this record to feel relatable and real. We’re constantly fed a fake narrative through social media and reality TV, etc, and I just want to come across as the person I am. Flaws and all.”
That “realness” came early to Lauren as a child. On the surface, she had a fairly conventional childhood, riding her bike around her suburban Atlanta neighborhood and stealing her older brother Kris’s alternative rock albums. From there she fell into a world of U2, Oasis, David Bowie, The Beatles, Jeff Buckley, Outkast, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Alanis Morrisette, and Tori Amos. She gravitated towards lyrics that made her feel deeply and allowed a form of escape. Her homelife turned tumultuous – her parents’ constant fighting ultimately led to a divorce, and her mother fell into addiction which drove Lauren to further retreat into her room and into her headphones. Never the “popular girl” but always oddly confident in her nerdy quirkiness, she bought her first guitar at 15 and realized she possessed a tool to express herself through song and also escape the chaos around her. That same year, she won a radio contest that allowed her to sing with Butch Walker in front of 90,000 fans and ultimately changed the trajectory of her life – she knew she wanted to play music forever.
As Lauren moved further into adulthood, she was still rattled by adolescent trauma and ultimately felt trapped in Georgia. “I wanted to get away as far as possible, and by doing so, I was able to disconnect from that baggage, responsibility, and codependency I’d felt for my mom as a teen and really spread my own wings and discover myself.” She moved to Newcastle, England and dug more into her songwriting and eventually found the confidence to perform in front of others. Up until then, she only sang in front of a very small group of trusted friends. Moving to the UK changed Lauren in a way she didn’t fully understand until she came back home to the states. As much as she wanted to get away, she missed the South. She returned home self-assured and with the initial building blocks of her sound.
At Georgia State University, Lauren majored in English and started her first band, where she was lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist. She met Jason shortly thereafter. They fell in love, broke each other’s hearts, but ultimately settled into their destiny together where they have been creating music and a life ever since. Lauren credits Jason with pushing her to fullest potential. “He was the person who always had my back as soon as he heard me sing. He’s always believed in me even when I didn’t – whether it was in The Whiskey Gentry, or now as a solo artist, we’ve been on the journey together, and it’s really special.”
A firm believer in timing and synchronicities, Lauren knows that every moment in her life thus far has led her to make People Talk. The untapped musical influences, the move to Nashville, the people in her life, her childhood, and decades of touring, writing, and fronting bands has all melded within her to explode in the form of ten songs that express a woman fully formed. “I couldn’t be more proud of anything in my life. It’s real, and it’s me. Finally.”
People Talk will be released on March 31, 2023 via Lauren & Jason’s own label Big Kitty Records.
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