Nico Hedley impresses with the depth and texture of his first solo album.
NYC singer-songwriter Nico Hedley doesn’t sound like he’s from Brooklyn. On ‘Painterly,’ his first full-length solo album and first crack at songwriting, he has an Everyman voice that sounds like he could be from any number of places in the Midwest or Upper South. The album can resonate with anyone who has struggled with loss and depression, regardless of their background. The songs came to Hedley in a rush following a painful breakup. Notwithstanding the need to process the experience while so much material abruptly appeared to him, not all the songs deal with loss and mourning. There is self-reflection, self-examination, and vulnerability, but none of these weigh the listener down.
Hedley has worked for several years in the fertile Brooklyn Americana scene, playing bass with bands such as Drew Citron, Beverly (Drew Citron and Frankie Rose, Ben Seretan Group, Alpenglow, and Field Guides (a.k.a. collaborator Benedict Kupstas) and successfully collaborated and toured with Kupstas. Last year’s Hedley and Seretan’s (another Brooklyn native) split single ‘Worldly’ / ‘The City is a Painting’ provided an early taste for ‘Painterly.’
‘Sounds So Familiar’ sounds like it could have been inspired by Neil Young, complete with a hefty guitar solo from, probably, his Family Band guitarist Ryan El-Solh that ventures into hard rock territory. The wistful, poetic, Emily Dickinson-quoting ‘Painterly’ unexpectedly drops into a cosmic, disjointed, free-form jazz saxophone in its last manic forty-five seconds, which could be the perfect metaphor for unwelcome intrusive thoughts. ‘Waking Dreams’ tells of being a depressed, ruminating, insomnia-plagued adult (“I still feel 15 when I’m alone at night with my mind”) who feels the need to put a brave face on for the world despite suffering inside, which alone explains the comparisons Hedley has drawn to George Jones. The spirit of Jones similarly haunts the bluesy, regretful ‘It Gets Easy’ and ‘I Just Wanna Dance,’ where Hedley is openly struggling to conquer self-doubt and personal demons, but repeating a self-fulfilling prophecy of ruining relationships: “If your heart will allow / I’ll just find a way to break it somehow.”
Hedley says that the lush ‘Tennessee’ was written after seeing bandmates hugging loved ones goodbye before the start of a tour that will include truck stops, hours of driving, getting lost on interstates, and monotonous scenery (“cornfields for days”). With quiet introspection he perfectly conveys that untethered feeling as an independent, self-supporting, yet single adult when one doesn’t have to check in with anyone anymore: “I just want someone to say ‘Goodbye’ to.”
The lengthy ‘The Tower’ refers to the Tarot card of the same name, which typically shows a solidly built tower being struck by lightning and burning, with dark clouds overhead, traditionally symbolizing crisis, destruction, and unexpected change. The card’s lightning bolt can also mean sudden insight or truth. Either way, the crisis-laden gloomy days don’t last forever, a realization that comes to Hedley by the end of the album. On the slow waltz ‘Lioness’ his voice floats on top of a simple acoustic guitar line as he reminds us that “There’s a light and it’s shining not only for you / We can all feel the glow pouring out of the blue if we wanted to.”