ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
July 11, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
I know it's hard sometimes / Putting up with these old wicked ways of mine / Oh woman, be strong
Point is, the Will Hoge who melted me with "Woman Be Strong" wasn't necessarily the same guy who serenaded those slo-mo shots of muddy trucks bounding carefree over the ruts. Songs like "When I Get My Wings" or "Guitar or a Gun" have shown him as a truly strong writer, capable of dripping soul and making good noise. And while I respect any one who can pass through the mainstream country gauntlet with their integrity intact, what I've wanted from Hoge was that soul and the good noise.
In the meantime, I continued to pay attention to his music. I was drawn in by the intimate stories of rural America. I was snagged by Hoge's voice, a rough and gritty instrument that would flirt occasionally with its breaking point. By the release of 2015's Small Town Dreams, I was back in the fold. The album showed him settled into that lane between mainstream country and americana, a writer with a real story to tell and a sure handle on his sound.
Which brings us to Will Hoge's new Anchors record. It arrives in the wake of Hoge's own realization that it was time for him to rediscover the joy in writing and performing. He took to the road sans band, with just his guitar and keyboard in the backseat, facing the audience each night as one guy with a battered suitcase of songs. My sense is that both Will and I are very pleased with the outcome.
Anchors trades in stories of adulthood, songs about marriage and fatherhood and work. The things in our lives which serve as our anchors both in the best and the most challenging ways. The CD launches with "The Reckoning", a song that looks inheritance straight in the eyes. It's a midtempo strummer that swells to an angry bridge: What kills me the most / Is knowing that you don't even want to change. "This Ain't An Original Sin" addresses a common cure to the midlife malaise, guitars blazing and drums banging. It's a self-deprecating albeit tuneful look at our dumb choices: So we won't be the first ones trying out this medicine / They've been using it for years / All our parents all our peers and all our friends / This ain't an original sin. Hoge even throws Adam and Eve in the mix, the original sinners whose weakness flows through our veins to this day. Later in the sessions, he sums up our condition with a blunt lyric: I'm older than Jesus / But still dumber than hell / And I'm so tired of fighting this war with myself.
The record's most melodic, single-worthy moments come with bits like "Baby's Eyes" and "Little Bit of Rust". The latter finds Hoge alongside Sheryl Crow in a moment that likens our relationship to a Chevy that's seen better days (but can still be fired up for the occasional night on the town). "Baby's Eyes" is a deceptively bright splash of country-pop, the sort of major key gem that can be found on a Reckless Kelly record, or on mainstream country radio. Both songs bounce along on durable hooks and immediately relevant arrangements.
But these more positive and hopeful sentiments are balanced by the distance and doubt of slower numbers like "Grand Charade" or the title track. The former presents moments of disconnect in a relationship that have become the rule rather than the exception: The truth is that we made a mistake / We ain't that happy couple on the wedding cake. These are painful but painfully necessary admissions in almost any lasting relationship. "Anchors" presents the record's most adventurous musical moments, including a stormy bridge that verges on psychedelia a'la Sturgill Simpson. The sins of the father / Drag like anchors on the kid. And the creeping "Cold Night in Santa Fe" leaves room for the collection's most soulful delivery.
This ain't your grampa's nostalgia. We acknowledge and cherish the people and the places of the past, but we also recognize "the reckoning", the inheritances and hand-me-down legacies that haunt us. From the "grand charade" a couple plays for their kids and their friends to the clunker of a family truck that might be coaxed back on the road with a little new paint. It's a nostalgia that makes room for both the charm and the curse. Will Hoge isn't damning the hand he's been dealt. He's just taking a more adult perspective.
Also this week, I give you Texas Gentlemen and "Habbie Doobie", counseling you to track down the video and to get yourself an armadillo. And while you're at the armadillo store, pick up a copy of Danny & the Champions of the World's excellent new double CD. And say hey to Charlie Parr, who loves his dog out loud.
- Wilco, "Dreamer in My Dreams" Being There (Nonesuch, 96)
- Jeff Tweedy, "Ashes of American Flags" Together at Last (dBPM, 17)
- Shakey Graves, "Pay the Road" And the Horse He Rode In On (Dualtone, 17) D
- Rod Melancon, "Dwayne and Me" Southern Gothic (Blue Elan, 17)
- Robyn Ludwick, "Bars Ain't Closin'" This Tall to Ride (Ludwick, 17)
- John Moreland, "It Don't Suit Me (Like Before)" Big Bad Luv (4AD, 17)
- Ruby Force, "Church and State" Evolutionary War (Force, 17)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "By Eleven" Gravity (Watermelon, 92)
- Charlie Parr, "Dog" Dog (Red House, 17) D
^ Will Hoge, "Reckoning" Anchors (Edlo, 17)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Breaking It Down!" Youth Detention (Don Giovani, 17)
- Matthew Ryan, "Summer Never Ends" Hustle Up Starlings (Ryan, 17)
- Scud Mountain Boys, "Do You Love the Sun" Do You Love the Sun (Ashmont, 13)
- Whiskey Shivers, "Southern Sisyphus" Some Part of Something (Clean Bill, 17) D
- Lilly Hiatt, "Trinity Lane" Trinity Lane (New West, 17)
- Deslondes, "Muddy Water" Hurry Home (New West, 17)
- Bohannons, "Dog Days" Luminary Angels (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Standing in the Doorway" single (Merge, 17) D
- Danny & the Champions of the World, "Waiting For the Right Time" Brilliant Light (Loose, 17) D
- Banditos, "Fine Fine Day" Visionland (Bloodshot, 17)
- Cale Tyson, "Railroad Blues" Careless Soul (Tyson, 17)
- Vandoliers, "Bluebonnet Highway" The Native (State Fair, 17)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Every Time You Leave" Not Dark Yet (Silver Cross, 17)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Habbie Doobie" TX Jelly (New West, 17) D
- Waxahatchee, "8 Ball" Out in the Storm (Merge, 17)
- Peter Case, "Brokedown Engine" Sings Like Hell (Vanguard, 93)
- Slaid Cleaves, "Take Home Pay" Ghost On the Car Radio (Candy House, 17)
- Ags Connolly, "Slow Burner" Nothin' Unexpected (At the Helm, 17)
- Deep Dark Woods, "Drifting on a Summer's Night" single (Six Shooter, 17) D
- 16 Horsepower, "American Wheeze" Sackcloth & Ashes (A&M, 96)