Often, you’ll hear young singer/songwriters with a poetic lyrical bent being tagged with “…the next Dylan” comparison. Less often however, is a young rock artist labeled as “… the next Springsteen.” Franklin, Tennessee based roots rocker Will Hoge happens to fall as the latter. His seventh studio full-length CD, Number Seven, bears a strong likeness to New Jersey Bruce’s songwriting, albeit with a bit more southern twang rather than a central Jersey dialect. Stonewashed denim and flannel shirts, unkempt facial hair and curly locks, and a gritty but passionate vocal delivery certainly further the similarity.
Much like the iconic American rocker, Hoge’s stock and trade has been the trials and tribulations of love won and lost and the busted relationship, and this recording has its share of such. Opener “Fool’s Gonna Fly” leads with the bare-knuckled line, “Shakespeare was a traitor as far as I’m concerned,” which goes on to suggest that the bard would have had another view of love had he fallen for the mean-spirited ex-lover addressed here. Solemn guitars and harmonica accentuate the point. Despite the glum theme of an empty and meaningless relationship – even when sharing the same room – “Gone” is one of the catchiest sing-along’s Hoge has written.
Hoge has also addressed the American socio-political climate in his writing and includes two fine examples here. Shuttered factories and empty storefronts of a one-horse town should sound familiar to any Springsteen fan. The sparse, acoustic hush of “American Dream” profiles a homeless man in such a town who came back to take care of his ailing mother after his father left, and as she passed away the corporate bank foreclosed on her home. “The Illegal Line” depicts a Mexican immigrant who “walked for 14 days” and “snuck across the border to the USA.” It’s got a stark, Johnny Cash blues style with a ballsy guitar solo laid down by ace session guitarist Tom Bukovac. But considering the subject matter, the song would have been better served with a Latin American flare.
Hoge embraces his love of country rock, ala Springsteen’s Tom Joad portrayal. “Goddamn California” has a sweet Laurel Canyon vibe thanks to weepy pedal steel and a lulling chorus. Lost amongst “…these streets of gold, my dreams, like property, are bought and sold,” the protagonist shuns the loneliness and emptiness of La La land and longs for his native Tennessee. “Silver Chain” has a bluesy, hard luck vibe that would fit comfortably amongst Springsteen’s Nebraska basement tapes and its lost souls. The sparse acoustic lullaby “Trying To Be a Man” finds a scared young man falling in love with a little girl, the couple quickly, unexpectantly expecting, and the mother passing on during childbirth, leaving a scared young man, “Trying to be a man.”
Hoge pays tribute to other fine influences as well. The addictive and jangly guitar chords on “Nothing To Lose” find Hoge channeling Tom Petty channeling the Byrds. Hitting somewhat closer to home for Hoge, the CD-closing “When I Get My Wings” looks towards Memphis with soulful and bellowing lead vocals, and Stax-styled horns, a classic, old school R&B vamp.
By no means is Hoge intentionally trying to sound derivative of any of these artists mentioned, nor should Number Seven be considered a trite work. But this leopard can’t shed its spots. This is the sound of Will Hoge. By no means his best studio recording, much of it stands on its own merits amongst his cannon of work.