Nashville based Will Hoge has been one of America’s most under appreciated singer-songwriters for far too long. He’s survived numerous changes in band personnel common to any act that puts in over 200 nights a year on the road for a minimal wage, as well a major label contract debacle. However, he’s an astounding, visceral live performer and as his latest studio release, Draw The Curtains (Rykodisc) proves, a captivating songwriter.
On previous studio releases he’s lamented love and love lost (Carousel and Blackbird On A Lonely Wire), political and social unrest (America EP) and rich Memphis funk and southern gospel (The Man Who Killed Love). On his fourth full-length, he delves deeper into his southern roots, adding a bit of the country leanings of his hometown. Several cuts feature weepy pedal steel guitar, sullen piano, textured keyboards and lamenting violin. His muscular, guitar-driven power pop remains, as does his stark lyricism.
Hoge goes against the grain and opens the album with the mournful, somber piano ballad “When I Can Afford To Lose,” where lush strings, elegant piano and solemn harmonica envelope heartbroken emotions on this tearjerker. Next is the cheerful, poppy nugget “These Were The Days.” Here the narrator beseeches us to hold on to a heartfelt love. “Dirty Little War” offers the first hints of country, as steel guitar and accordion frame this solemn tale of divorce. An unpleasant court proceeding plays out against images of gifts and possessions, a ring that has lost its luster and a crumbling home. You feel for the song’s subjects when Hoge croons, “A broken heart, I know can heal, but I believe you’ve got my soul.”
The blues take hold on “Silver and Gold,” while “Sex, Lies and Money” is a rollicking three-minute jaunt through his power pop roots. The reflective tone returns with “I’m Sorry Now,” a plea to be taken back after a drunken stupor. The mood picks back up on “Midnight Parade,” where the strings and pedal steel impart an upbeat tempo and positive vibe with potential for radio success. The lovely, acoustic laced title track finds the songwriter pleading for a new love to spend the night. Elegant trumpet and soulful Hammond organ provide the backdrop of this ballad.
The emotional heart and soul of the record arrives on “Washed By The Water.” This gospel drenched cut is an ode to the people of New Orleans, replete with Hammond organ and a backing chorus of gospel singers who deliver a poignant, passionate and heartfelt performance. Hoge writes from the perspective of those in the shadow of the levee, the citizens without a choice but to rebuild their home with their own hands. Country flavored closer “This Highway’s Home” nods to Hank Williams lyrically while taking cues from Little Feat’s “Willin'” musically. Hoge details the travels of a barroom performer, a truck driving man and a groom leaving his new bride at the alter with a wave.
Hoge doesn’t possess a clear and audible singing voice. Instead, his is smoky, raspy and innate. For the most part, you’ve heard the subject matter he’s writing about. However, he stands out amongst his peers due to the stark realism with which he delivers his tales. Draw The Curtains is an amazing listen from start to finish. With a new label giving a proper push to this release, hopefully Will Hoge won’t remain under appreciated much longer.
JamBase | Tennessee
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