On his sixth proper studio album, southern rocker Will Hoge is fitting nicely into the groove he has carved out over the previous decade, crawling from bar to bar across the nation playing mostly sold out shows.
It’s telling that in addition to his studio releases, Hoge has also put out just as many live albums independently, which were gobbled up by fans.
Hoge’s style is best appreciated live — where the setlist can flow seamlessly from an acoustic ballad to a rollicking cover of some old Hank Williams song — but over the years he has begun to grasp the advantages of studio recordings. Not too much polish, but stitching together the best takes to create the best cuts.
His latest disc The Wreckage, released in late 2009, came on the heels of constant touring (plus a near-fatal scooter accident that delayed the disc by several months, but arguably led to a tighter set of songs). His sound is comparable to that of fellow troubadours Pat McGee, or Stephen Kellogg, almost like a more earnest and accessible Whiskeytown.
With such a great vibe, it’s shocking Hoge has never found any true mainstream success, and has instead been relegated to also-ran status, while less talented bands flame out on the big stage.
He had his chance to breakthrough with his sophomore effort Blackbird on a Lonely Wire in 2003, on Atlantic Records, though the album didn’t make much of an impact on the charts and Hoge soon returned to the indie route.
It’s probably for the best he stayed below the radar, because it gave him more time to hone his craft. Starting back at his 2001 debut Carousel, every subsequent album has shown more growth and potential than the one before — and The Wreckage captures the best he has to offer yet, with excellent songwriting and not a throwaway tune among the lot.
The dark, bluesy “Just Like Me,” stayed stuck in my head for months, and “Goodnight/Goodbye,” a stark duet with Ashley Monroe, is a sad window into a stalled relationship, complete with heartbreaking refrains.
The songs sound even better on a record player (the album was released digital/CD/vinyl), where the warm analog crackle hides the newness and all you need to absorb is the fact that it’s just good music. Plain and simple.