Will Hoge’s 7th is #7, My 1st [Album Review]

by oz on February 15, 2012

I first saw Will Hoge open for Jason Isbell in San Francisco several years ago and he stole the show. I admit to not owning anything in his back catalog which includes six other albums, but I started following his story in 2008 when he and his scooter took on the passenger side of a van and lost. Will suffered numerous broken bones (ribs, sternum, shattered femur, knee cap, shoulder blades), and lacerations to his face, arms, and torso requiring over 100 stitches. I still missed his album following the accident, but here I am now. Although it was released in September of last year (I was moving to KC at the time), I finally nabbed it and have been dedicated to the stories on #7 for several weeks.

“Fools Gonna Fly” opens the album and my immediate thought was “Hello guilty pleasure.” Its sound fits squarely in pop-country territory. “Too Old To Die Young” follows with a similar country-rock anthem sound, but the storyline is the stuff of pure country music.

18 was a rocky ride
I lit the fuse and I held on tight
Everyday was a Friday night
and I’ve got the scars to prove

It all blew up at 25
I saw those telephone posts flying by
and I don’t remember much that night
I’m just lucky I go through it.

And I let it run like an open vein
Love the pleasure and curse the pain
oh, the foolish things I’ve done
but I’m too old now to die young.

Woke up alone at 35
just across town from my ex-wife
I get my two kids every Friday night
and I work all week to do it

Their momma and me couldn’t work it
but that don’t seem to matter now
They’re all I care about
and I’ve got their love to prove it

And I let it run like an open vein
Love the pleasure and curse the pain
Oh, the foolish things I’ve done
But I’m too old now to die young.

So lyrically, you see where this is headed. It’s not suited for those of you looking for metaphor, allegory or intellectual depth that you’ll discuss in fan message boards. Will Hoge leaves little to the imagination, but he comes at you with honesty, emotion, and themes inspired by ravaged rural Americana with its dilapidated landscapes, devastated economies, and the tragic stories and broken hearts left behind.

If you live in or have roots in one of these broken down small towns, pull out a box of Kleenex for “American Dream.” My parents were raised in Newcomerstown, OH and I have fond memories of visiting my grandparents in this small town that was once lively. My wife’s grandparents, coincidentally, were from a nearby town. When driving back through this area, mostly to bury people, it’s sad to see these same small towns, now in disrepair. Houses are vacated and falling apart and those that decide to stay have little work.  It’s the same feeling as driving through the Southeast last year after the tornados. Visually, the towns don’t look dissimilar. The source of the damage is different – one catastrophic and the other tragic.

On “American Dream,” you won’t find Will Hoge taking up with the “occupy” movement and his message isn’t political. He writes like an eye-witness:

It used to be a one horse town
But the pony went away
It ended up in China
Because they make it cheaper there they say

And the store fronts all are empty
And the factory is dead
And these streets I used to walk on
Well now they’re just my bed.

And I’m going down, down, down.
I’m going down.

Did a couple years of college
But I just couldn’t make it stick.
I had to come back here and help Momma
Because Daddy left when she got sick

She worked every day for nothing
Till she turned 62
And on the same day I buried her
The bank foreclosed on her house too

It’s my American dream
And I’ve been all I can be.
With nothing left to lose at all
I guess I’m free.

“Illegal Line” is a burning outlaw country rocker that tells a story from the point of view of an illegal alien hopping the border to pour concrete for $4 an hour to support his family back home. It’s my favorite track on the album due its slow building plot line and raging guitar solo and vocals at the climax.

The album ends with the bluesy, soul ballad “When I Get My Wings” that would make Otis Redding proud. It showcases the full range of Hoge’s vocals as he tells the story of a husband handling the loss of his spouse.

This album may not be eccentric enough for many of you – it’s for the anti-Pitchfork crowd. But if you’re a fan of Ryan Bingham, you should dive into Will Hoge. He’s one song away from breaking out of his him hometown of Nashville and finding mass appeal. Give a listen to the songs below.

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