Will Hoge isn’t necessarily doing anything new, but what he does, he does right. That in itself is thrilling. He kicks a roots-rock reactionary movement in the ass simply because he’s not reacting to anything but his own passion. Throughout a decade of performing, soul has continuously rushed through his veins despite his sonic surroundings. It just happens to be getting noticed in an airbrushed, touched-up, see-through musical climate. Adding his tracks in the wet pavement, Hoge reiterates tales of uptown girls, down(townie) bars, cigarettes, fools, red lipstick, packing bags and loneliness — and, of course, the requisite tune about the disillusionment of rock ’n’ roll stardom. But there’s a distinct intensity in the impatient drums, Southern-charm guitar, contagious bass and scratchy wool voice that is as irresistible as Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” You can’t help but sing along, sway with strangers and thrust your fists in the air.
In his first studio release, Carousel, Hoge twists and turns with melancholy at almost every corner, but like a few of his more established and slightly more watered-down contemporaries (Counting Crows, Wallflowers), it never quite reaches that “God, someone kill me” point, which is almost more upsetting. Just about when he starts getting somewhere lyrically, an upbeat hook or catchy chorus jumps in to interrupt the sadness. Perhaps, however, I’m just a freak. Everyone else (including radio) probably appreciates the uplifting parts. They are catchy and it is definitely refreshing (and relaxing) to hear a carefully crafted, highly listenable song every once in a while that doesn’t require too much thinking, while still maintaining a stance of quality that shuns the “guilty pleasure” title.
In live performances, the band pounds its “Heartbreak Avenue” weariness into skins and bleeds it onto fret boards until everything erupts into a contagious burst of energy that always gets the crowd on its feet. Hoge is known for his energetic shows, which are chock-full of jumps, tears, sweat, smiling, cigarettes and sweet goodbyes. Maybe in his next release, he’ll dig deeper into the themes he started developing on Carousel. He’s definitely on the path to rock ’n’ roll stardom. Hopefully, he’ll stay grounded enough and won’t have to “recover the satellites” next time around.
Will Hoge opens for the Clarks Jan. 16 at the Magic Bag.
Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times music writer. E-mail [email protected].