A consistent songwriter who will shortly make a second trip to Europe to promote his new album, Will Hoge is a talent in the tradition of the bards rooted in the Southern country-rock sound. His latest project, Anchors, is out today, and only adds to Hoge’s already-established status as a talented writer, musician, and vocalist.
“This Grand Charade” is a good place to start. It’s a traditional heartbreak song, starting gently to match a lyric about “these walls building up between us.” The image of a “couple on the wedding cake” is pivotal for the song. Sprinkles of piano enhance the mood: putting on a brave face while tending to “cry in the parking lot.” Hoge is a student of the genre he works in, which is also shown on “Angel’s Wings.” That track looks to “better days to come” even as Hoge’s protagonist feels “chained to the ground” by all his mistakes.
“The Reckoning,” which opens the album, notes how “time will always show you proof.” The instrumentation kicks in during the middle eight then dips back down, while Hoge’s vocal is at the foreground. It is a pure and American instrument, like that of Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers.
“Cold Night in Santa Fe” is immaculately produced. The song opens like an old Elton John song and shares the chords with the opening of Carole King’s “It’s Too Late.” Hoge draws attention to love ‘slipping away’ and ‘falling apart,’ and vocal inspiration comes from the blues. It is in the sort of range Robert Palmer and Joe Cocker used to sing in, and that today the likes of Drake White are taking to radio. The song could happily go on for several more verses, but it’s truly a three-minute movie.
“Through Missing You” picks up the theme. It’s the sort of track that Brett Eldredge is bringing to country’s big stages at the moment, with real lyrical depth and a twelve-string tucked in the verse that shines for a couple of bars in the middle and end of the song. The structure of this tune (and many others on Anchors) is sublime.
Hoge can also do poppier songs, as on “Baby’s Eyes,” a Petty-esque power-pop tune with a heck of a backbeat. Bruce Springsteen’s wide-open heartland rock and the poppy catchiness of Elvis Costello both influence “(This Ain’t) An Original Sin”; it’s essentially a chat-up song about going to bed with someone, and Hoge name checks Neil Armstrong and Adam and Eve. Think of it as the country-rock version of the old Broadway tune “Let’s Do It.”
“Little Bit of Rust” is one of them car songs. Hoge buys a Chevy second-hand, which becomes a metaphor – though time dulls people, it’s still important to shine on the dance floor downtown. The guitars crunch and the mandolin and fiddle sing, a perfect arrangement for a pretty song.
The title track, which contains my favorite chord (diminished fifth), is a tale of driving out to Oklahoma for Independence Day weekend, perhaps in the Chevy; for “What says freedom more than having a new place to be fun?” Hoge sings of his girl’s attempts to move away from the sins of her parents, which act as the anchors on her character and a universal truism. The third verse is a little sardonic, as Hoge reckons the college kids in Tulsa won’t experience life like they will. There is much unsaid in this vignette of hope and youth.
The closing pair of songs continue this theme. “17,” played higher up the guitar neck for extra twang, is gorgeous, sounding like ‘the song on the radio’ about which Will sings. The quiver in the vocal is the same as that of Darius Rucker, while the horns in the middle of the song match the effervescence of youth. Album closer “Young As We Will Ever Be” is the album’s most immediate track, a driving song with a scintillating lick and a bellow-able chorus.
Hoge’s lyric here, of ‘sweeter days ahead’, may come to life for his already successful career, thanks to a fully-realized set of songs.
Download Anchors on iTunes and stream below.