After many years of burning up the highways across America and being one of the most buzzed about underground artists of any genre, Will Hoge saw a career bump with his last record, The Wreckage. Critically acclaimed as his best effort, it solidified the buzz and saw him grow his audience. This was particularly noticeable in Texas, as Hoge was aided by airplay from 92.1 KNBT FM and steady pub from websites like ours, along with endorsements from the likes of Wade Bowen.
Number Seven finds Hoge mining familiar themes and sounds from songs past. He treads in the gray areas between rock, country and soul. The Nashville native has always had a poet’s pen, a banger’s heart and a mystified soul. He’s part Mellencamp, part Hank, part Otis. Hoge has a unique ability to take the best of each of these shades of gray and paint a vivid musical landscape. When he’s singing a country song it sounds genuine and when he’s rocking out it just seems natural. Too often artists sound as though they’re playing dress-up in their older brothers’ clothes when they are attempting to be something they’re not. Hoge never has this problem…he’s genuine, forthright and real with each turn of phrase and ringing note.
Album opener, “Fool’s Gonna Fly” is classic Hoge and is a fantastic entry into the entire collection as it’s indicative of Hoge’s sense of melody, mood and musicality. It’s emotive without being overwrought. The lyrics are evocative without being overthought. The Audrey Hepburn line found in this gem is one of the most creative lyrics I’ve heard this year. Steel guitar strains throughout “God*** California” as their lonesome ache mimics the homesickness found in the lyrics. Hoge’s always packed each album with at least one road weary tale and this is perhaps one of his best ever. “American Dream” is the type of song that mainstream country music used to excel with until they decided listeners can’t handle reality.
Lead single, “When I Get My Wings” has generated a ton of attention for its devotion to lifelong love slipping away backed by Stax style horns. Mirroring the emotion found in “Wings” is the longing despair created with the lyrics and soaring chorus of melancholy found on “Gone”.
If the record has a misstep, it’s when Hoge tackles tackles the political hotbutton issue of immigration with “The Illegal Line”, the story of an illegal alien journey to the promisedland. The music drags for the first 3/4 of the song before devolving into a disjointed jam. It just doesn’t stand up to the quality of the rest of the album. Experimentation with “Silver Chain” leaves a cool song with an empty shell.
He’s at his best with songs like “Nothing to Lose” that feature whimsical lyrics and poppy production balanced by his soulful grit. The strongest track on a set of standouts is “Trying to Be a Man”. It’s a look in on a man’s growing family, responsibility and life. The tune really hit home with me as a young husband and father, but the themes are universal for anyone. The song takes a dark lyrical turn in the last stanza which reinforces that Hoge’s not afraid to go places most artists would never attempt to travel to in this day and age. Alas, we’ve all been or been around someone who is identical to the lyric “the truth is I’m a boy just trying to be a man.”
Number Seven is a successful continuation of the Will Hoge musical story. Despite the mid-album sequencing dip, this effort stands toe to toe with Hoge’s best and should further catapult him into the conscience of more folks. It’s a solid shot in his canon and will serve as a welcoming entrypoint for newcomers to the Hoge bandwagon, as well as being a satisfying chainlink for old fans who hold Hoge to his own high standard.