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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

WILL HOGE - TINY LITTLE MOVIES


ROUTES & BRANCHES  
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
June 28, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

It's my opinion that the only thing better than not mowing the lawn is having mowed the lawn.  This little affirmation can be applied to just about every daunting task in our lives.  The only thing better than not exercising is having exercised.  Visiting the doctor.  Having a difficult conversation.  Summer.

Throughout much of my life, Summer has been a nemesis.  Here in Our Faire Square State, temps can reach the 90s on a regular basis, with humidity just in the teens.  It almost always cools into the 50s or even the 40s overnight.  Nevertheless, I'm ready for Fall.

It's fortunate that 2020 continues to be as strong a year for our kind of music as any.  Every month, rain or shine, heat or chill, we revisit the thirty days passed in order to wrap up our favorite records for the last couple weeks.  It looks like this:

WHAT's SO GREAT ABOUT JUNE?!!
- Harmed Brothers, Across the Waves  (Fluff & Gravy, Jun 5)
- Hellbound Glory, Pure Scum  (Black Country Rock, Jun 5)
- Will Hoge, Tiny Little Movies  (EDLO, Jun 26)
- Country Westerns, Country Westerns  (Fat Possum, Jun 26)
- Kyle Nix, Lightning On the Mountain & Other Short Stories  (Bossier City, Jun 26)
... it's in order of appearance, because that's how we do.

More than a dozen records into his career, Will Hoge isn't afraid to speak his mind.  Just this week, in response to a non-masked, non-physically distanced concert held by Chase Rice:  Shame on every damn one of your selfish asses.  On his last album, 2018's My American Dream, the Nashville resident took his country and his town to task.  Hoge reserved special scorn for his fellow Southerners who chose to fly high the Confederate colors:  I'm looking away now, Dixie / Cause I've seen all I can stand / But I'm still a Southern man.

That prophetic rage echoes across a couple cuts on Tiny Little Movies.  Battered by the blunt guitars of "Con Man Blues", the titular punching bag is told, You're just fakin' / It's everything you do.  We're all at the mercy of his madness, Hoping in the morning if we wake up / It won't feel so much like we've all gone insane.  With a barking rasp that land somewhere between Tom Petty and Bob Seger, Will Hoge lands these blows soundly, leaving no question that the target of "The Overthrow" (Darth Vader with a spray tan) has earned every bit of his scorn.  The song's slicing guitars and call-and-response backing chorus sound light years away from Music City, perhaps inherited from a 1981 Billy Squier or Loverboy hit.

But, as the CD's title might suggest, the script of Tiny Little Movies is full of politics of the everyday sort.  Rather than pointing fingers at the rats scurrying from DC's bubbling swamp, Hoge glances over fences and pulls aside curtains for a glimpse of life as it's lived in places like his "Midway Motel".  I'm not alone, he sings on the opening track.  There's a bible and a telephone / And a TV that keeps flashing off and on / It's as broken as the world outside.  These are the songs that Hoge writes best, taking elements of country and heartland rock, binding them with a twine of sincerity and grit.

"Midway Motel" rides on heavy but melodic guitars, telling stories from a place we've all been, a way stop for some and a dead end for others.  The narrator includes himself in this latter cohort: I keep a key that opens up 203 / It's got everything that I need / When I want to leave it all behind.  Hoge neither admires nor pities his characters, but simply accepts them like an eagle-eyed reporter from the corner booth.  Another heartland rocker, "Even the River Runs Out of This Town" acknowledges the songwriter's rare and hard-earned skill with an observation or a turn of phrase:  The railroad track and the highway / I guess it's your turn now / Even the river runs out of this town.  A more nuanced cut, piano and orchestral flourishes are applied for cinematic effect.

Some of the most impactful moments on Tiny Little Movies come from songs that find Hoge stepping back to assess his own place in the world.  "Maybe This Is OK" alternates more reflective verses with a fiery chorus, as the writer gives himself permission to entertain the feeling of contentment as he settles into middle age: The mystery has come unwound / I slowly lay this armor down.  It was Hoge's lesser heard soulful side that first drew me to his music nearly fifteen years ago.  "My Worst" mines those bluesy veins, allowing the underrated vocalist to stretch out  into the song's deep groove. 

There's a bit of a restless streak in Will Hoge's music, a legacy that finds him increasingly comfortable in exploring all the dark corners and the implications of his music.  Where 2006's Man Who Killed Love portrayed him as a soul belter, 2015's Small Town Dreams embraced the country and heartland elements of Hoge's songwriting.  Upon the release of 2017's Anchors, he addressed the need to pare it all back to a bare minimum, to rattle around the country as a solo artist in hopes of rediscovering the joy that led him to writing and performing as a younger man.  Tiny Little Movies seems to strike his most eclectic chord to date, gathering each of these tendencies and influences into a cohesive sound even as he still allows the frayed ends to show. 

^ Will Hoge, "Midway Motel" Tiny Little Movies  (EDLO, 20)
- The Chicks, "March March" Gaslighter  (Columbia, Jul 17)
- Jerry Joseph, "Bone Towers" Beautiful Madness  (Decor, Aug 21)
- Country Westerns, "It's Not Easy" Country Westerns  (Fat Possum, 20)
- Jess Williamson, "Pictures of Flowers (feat. Hand Habits)" single  (Mexican Summer, 20)  D
- Delta Spirit, "How Bout It" What Is There  (New West, Sep 11)  D
- Sun On Shade, "Mainline Getaway (feat. Shonna Tucker)" Sun On Shade  (ATO, 20)  D
- Thad Cockrell, "Slow and Steady" If In Case You Feel the Same  (ATO, 20)
- Eric Church, "Stick That In Your Country Song" single  (EMI, 20)  D
- HC McEntire, "Time On Fire" Eno Axis  (Merge, Aug 21)  D
- Corb Lund, "Oklahomans!" Agricultural Tragic  (New West, 20)
- Town Meeting, "Goddamn Song" Make Things Better  (Town Mtg, 20)  D
- Dan Penn, "Living On Mercy" Living On Mercy  (Last Music Co, Aug 28)  D
- Bonny Light Horseman, "Green Rocky Road" Green/Green EP  (37d03d, Aug 7)  D
- Rev Greg Spradlin & Band of Imperials, "Stainless Steel" Hi-Watter  (Out of the Past, Jul 17)
- SG Goodman, "It Ain't Me Babe" Old Time Feeling  (Verve, Jul 17)
- Dead Tongues, "Bama Boys Circa 2005" Transmigration Blues  (Psychic Hotline, 20)
- Railroad Earth, "Delta Queen Waltz" On the Road: Tribute to John Hartford  (LoHi, 20)
- Kyle Nix, "Josephine" Lightning On the Mountain & Other Short Stories  (Bossier, 20)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Standing In the Doorway (Alive at Spacebomb Studios)" Let the Light Of the World Open Your Eyes  (Merge, 20)  D
- David Ramirez, "Hell (feat. Sir Woman)" My Love Is a Hurricane  (Sweetworld, Jul 17)
- Molly Tuttle, "Fake Empire" ... but i'd rather be with you  (Compass, Aug 28)  D
- Old 97s, "Turn Off the TV" Twelfth  (ATO, Aug 21)  D
- Texas Gentlemen, "Train to Avista" Floor It!!!  (New West, Jul 17)
- Justin Wells, "Screaming Song" The United State  (Singular, Aug 28)  D
- Joshua Ray Walker, "Cupboard" Glad You Made It  (State Fair, Jul 10)
- Ruston Kelly, "Radio Cloud" Shape & Destroy  (Rounder, Aug 28)
- Jayhawks, "Bitter Pill" XOXO  (Sham, Jul 10)
- Greyhound, "Primates" Primates  (Nine Mile, Jul 10)
- Half Gringa, "1990" Force to Reckon  (Half Gringa, Aug 28)  D


While society as we know it circles the drain in an attempt to enforce back to normal, our music world continues to provide us with reasons to carry on, fight the good fight, etc.  We typically select just five new announcements from the week passed, and we'll continue in that tradition, even as we acknowledge that there were at least a dozen additional worthy records added to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster since last Episode (not counting another superb live recording uploaded to Bandcamp by Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit).  Old 97s have set August 21 as the street date for their twelfth album, Twelfth, to be released via ATO Records.  Mount Moriah frontperson HC McEntire will share her second solo CD since last recording with her band.  Eno Axis debuts courtesy of Merge Records on August 21.  Justin Wells' Dawn In the Distance earned one of the top spots on our year-end favorites list back in 2016.  Set your expectations appropriately for The United State, dropping August 28 on Singular.  Bill Callahan is wasting no time in unleashing the follow-up to last year's Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest.  The Drag City label will drop his Gold Record on September 4.  Finally, I was just mentioning to my son that it was way past time for Delta Spirit to return to the studio.  Matthew Logan Vasquez and co. have taken my request to heart.  Expect What Is There on New West Records when September 11 rolls around.  All of the sudden, it's your weekly ROUTES-cast:


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