By Al Kaufman
Will Hoge is the type of guy you’d expect to see doing Chevy commercials. The guy is the heart of America. His songs are big and majestic with the right amount of twang, and they cover the topics that Americans care about; stuff like love gone sour, growing old, and failing to make it in life. It’s not exactly “Sexy and I Know It,” but you somehow feel good listening to it.
Hoge has often been thought of as a Southern Springsteen, but he is more of an erudite everyman. He’s country enough to rhyme “fail” with “hell” on “Trying to Be a Man,” and claim he’s “whiskey from a jar” while his girl is “a fine wine” in “No Man’s Land,” but he can call Shakespeare a traitor on “Fool’s Gonna Fly,” and write the most brilliantly succinct line about LA (“Nobody here will ever warn you how cold it all could be”) ever written.
In fact, it is when Hoge is at his most Springsteenian that he stumbles. “American Dream,” meant to be the high point of the album, is overreaching. While it starts with the clever line, “It used to be a one-horse town but the pony went away,” but then the stores all closed, dad left, mom got sick, he came home from college to take care of her, he lost his house, and now is homeless on the street with a sign that says “Jesus loves you.” “The Illegal Line” has the same problem. Lines such as “$4 an hour but nobody moans because it’s $3.50 more than we can get back home,” feel forced. Add to it the fact that he sends money home to his wife and kids and eventually gets deported after “they came in through the door with guns and lights, screamin’ ‘get on the floor.'” and the song reads more like a liberal sociology class lecture rather than art.
But Hoge is at his best when he writes big melodies for small people. He saves the best for last with “When I Get My Wings.” It’s a full-blown Stax-influenced piece of soul that would be played every Sunday at the Church of Lost Love. It’s rich and heartfelt, just like we’ve all come to expect from the heart of America.
Will Hoge plays Vinyl with Erick Baker on Thursday, March 29.