Reviewers should be unbiased. When it comes to Will Hoge, I am anything but unbiased. Therefore, I am not a reviewer. But I am a huge fan, so if you want a totally biased, totally honest and heartfelt opinion about Will and the band’s new album, Number Seven, look no further.
Over the past few years, Will’s taken a new tack with his music. His Twitter bio simply reads, “Rock n’ roll, country soul.” And I think that description probably does more justice than I ever could. While there’s no doubt they are a rock band, Will’s Tennessee roots have always had a significant influence on his music, drawing from soul, gospel, and country. After the release of The Man Who Killed Love, a complete rock odyssey in 2006, Will’s two follow up albums, 2007’s Draw the Curtain and 2009’s The Wreckage took a decidedly country swing, with the band even getting some attention from CMT.
And now, here comes Number Seven, which finds itself comfortably in the space between rock n’ roll and country – and I gotta tell you, it’s a space that only Will Hoge could fill.
The prevailing theme of the album is one of overcoming – and with an underlying, decidedly “proud to be American” sentiment – it rings with blue collar themes and champions the song of the downtrodden, but with that patriotic, gritty “never say die” attitude. This is the type of songwriting that defines a career; as a lyricist, Will has really refined his storytelling abilities. In the vein of Springsteen, Steve Earle and John Hiatt, Will steps into new characters for each song on the record, every one just as or more believable than the last. Hoge doesn’t portend to tell us what we should think of these characters – they are just the lives that unfold around us every day, and we are left to judge ourselves.
In “Too Old To Die Young,” he’s the voice of a party-boy turned middle-aged parent who holds no regrets for anything that’s happened in his life, including the blatantly honest “foolish things” he’s done. Perhaps the saddest song on the record, the ironically named “American Dream” chronicles the life of a man who dropped out of college, cares for his aging mother, and loses everything. “The Illegal Line” sees Hoge putting the immigration debate on the table in the most human of stories, giving a voice to those who come to the U.S. in search of the true American dream. In the tearjerker “Trying to Be A Man,” we hear a man telling his child the story of how he came to be, expressing his fears of failure and his one simple goal – to try to be a man. And of course, we can’t forget the lonely, plaintive love story of a man, married 57 years, recently widowed in “When I Get My Wings.”
Tossed among these striking character sketches in song are classic Will Hoge rockers that are a bit lighter, and have the resounding choruses that will give fans plenty of sing-along moments at live shows. My favorite, “Goddam California,” is a bluesy, soul-filled homage to Hoge’s home state, complete with pedal steel to give that sense of longing for home – whether you’re from Tennessee or … ahem, New Jersey. (Maybe not so much California, though!)
Musically, this incarnation of the band is incredibly tight. Hoge is flanked by Adams (Beard and Ollendorff) on guitar and bass (and, in the case of Ollendorff, a mean pedal steel and a host of other instruments), with now five or six year veteran band drummer Siggi Birkis as his constant companion. The instrumentation is rich, the sound big, and the chops strong. The record is true to their live performance, but that should come as no surprise if you’re a Will Hoge fan.
In a time when our economy is spinning out of control, families are losing homes, our politicians are failing us, and people have to make decisions daily between putting gas in their car or putting food on the table, we’re all searching for a little respite and maybe someone to say, “Hey, I’ve been there, we’ll get through it.” Hoge and his merry band of musicians have created a record that does both. It’s simply incredible music. In fact, for this fan, Number Seven could easily catapult itself into the number one spot as Will Hoge’s best record ever.