For two decades, Will Hoge has been an important fixture in the American rock & roll/country scene. His songwriting consistently stands out, highlighting the realities of blue-collar America and the struggles of modern day living.
Hoge’s new album ‘Tiny Little Movies’ showcases Hoge’s soulful vocals, and remains an engaging piece of work from start to finish. Even though this album clearly has a signature style, there are elements of several genres that can be heard.
The album has great production throughout, being produced by both Hoge himself and Matt Ross-Spang, which is just one of the reasons why it is such an enjoyable listen. It was recorded over four days in an East Nashville rehearsal space, with each band member recording their tracks live and together.
“There’s a classic, rock & roll centrepiece to everything this band does, but it’s still a group of four different people, and we all bring different influences to the table,” says Hoge, who turned to Grammy-winning producer/engineer Matt Ross-Spang (Jason Isbell, Margo Price, Lori McKenna) to mix the album at Sam Phillips Recording. “We’ve got a metalhead in the group. We’ve got a Motown fan. We’ve got a guitarist who loves Johnny Marr. It’s a unique hodgepodge of sounds coming together, and we tried to accentuate that.”
The opener, ‘Midway Motel’, has a traditional rock/americana sound, and feels very inspired by both Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. On this track, the influence of Matt Ross-Spang’s production is prevalent, as it has a very similar sound to Jason Isbell’s 2017 album, ‘The Nashville Sound’ (which was also produced by Ross-Spang).
The penultimate song, ‘The Curse’, also follows this style. The song tells the story of an individual feeling redeemed and inspired due to being in a loving relationship, telling his love that maybe she is ‘the one to break the curse’.
“I grew up loving rock & roll records, and that’s my intent every time I go into the studio – to honour that sound,” he says. “You get closer sometimes more than others. This time, I think we nailed it.
‘That’s How You Lose Her’ is a powerful rock belter with an intricate guitar line about losing a relationship due to inexperience, whilst the blues-infused ‘All the Pretty Horses’ is a song about saying goodbye to youth, referencing lullabies and the mona lisa to paint a picture of needing to grow up. The production on this song is simply wonderful, as it truly showcases both Hoge’s voice and a soulful bass line.
A grungier rock sound also plays a part on the record. ‘The Overthrow’ is an angry song that highlights Hoge’s distaste with corruption in America, featuring a repeated guitar tab that builds momentum and power. This use of guitar is also used on ‘Con Man Blues’, a song with a very similar theme that discusses inequality in the US. These two songs are by far the most political on the album, and it is clear that Hoge knows how to write a great protest song.
My personal favourite on the album is the first single – ‘Even the River Runs Out in This Town’. The lyrics here use a simple metaphor to highlight the pain felt in the end of a relationship. The song also best captures Hoge’s softer side, where his vocal chops can be best heard.
The album certainly feels very relevant today, and it will become an enduring part of Hoge’s catalogue. Though the album is coherent, the sound has less of an overall theme than his 2015 album ‘Small Town Dreams’, which remains my personal favourite of his. It also doesn’t feature as many politically-charged songs as his last release, ‘My American Dream’, which is a welcome move.
There are many highlights to the album, which makes it well-worth a listen. It’s a great addition to Hoge’s discography and feels particularly lyrically relevant to today’s world.