Will Hoge – Anchors
EDLO Records – 11 August 2017
A Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter from Tennessee, Will Hoge was on a roll. He was in constant demand for live shows, both solo and as a support act. His songs were being covered on a regular basis, including Even If It Breaks Your Heart, a Billboard Country #1 for the Eli Young Band, and he had eight well-received studio albums and five live albums to his name.
But he just wasn’t feeling it anymore. So, he broke up the band and took to the road for a year of solo shows to reignite the passion. He began writing again, and the result can be heard on Anchors, an album of guitar-led Americana that embraces folk, country and heartland rock. He’s backed up by an all star band of musicians drawn from the ranks of Jack White, Ryan Adams and Darius Rucker, a troubadour approach that seeks to please himself first and the crowd second.
Predominantly introspective and melancholic, it covers such topics as stale marriages, teenage love and the quest for better dreams. It opens in reflective, downbeat mood with The Reckoning as he sings about seeds you plant that never grow and “what’s the point of holding on to anything that might be gone too soon?” plangent guitar bolstering the emotions.
With its John Prine hints, This Grand Charade remains downcast in its portrait of a marriage slowly falling apart. The mood lightens a touch with Little Bit Of Rust, a mid-paced rocker on which, joined by Sheryl Crow and featuring mandolin, he used doing up an old Chevy as a metaphor for trying to keep things on the road.
The pace slides back for the soulful, piano-backed Cold Night In Santa Fe, another tale of a relationship disintegrating as he notes that it’s not knowing its over that’s so painful as “the watching it slipping way.”
A chugging acoustic mid-tempo country rock strum, Baby’s Eyes picks things up both musically and in terms of outlook before he kicks into fifth gear on the ringing guitars call to put out rock of (This Ain’t) An Original Sin with its whooping backing vocals. There are flavours of Petty, Seger or Earle here, likewise to be found on the teenage hormonal desires of the mandolin-backed 17 with its blasts of brass and chiming stadium anthem closer Young As We Will Ever Be.
Between those there’s another clutch of ballads, the aching heart chug of Through Missing You, the pedal-steel streaked acoustic Springsteen-esque Angel Wings as he wonders “how many chances to I get to turn it all around,” and, punctuated by a sandstorm slide guitar swirl, the title track. A song about hitting the highway and heading out of town in a borrowed car seeking to escape a life where “the sins of the father drag like anchors on a chain.”
Hoge may not be pushing any thematic or musical envelopes, but you can hear his heart beating in every track of what is a very solid and immensely listenable album that, in reigniting the spark, will hopefully be just the launch of his second creative wind.