Review – Will Hoge’s “Never Give In”
Will Hoge in so many ways is sitting in the enviable catbird seat of music crossroads right now. This rocker who grew up in Franklin, TN and lives in Nashville has always been more rock than country, with songs that speak deep to middle America and its struggles and victories; more indicative of John Mellencamp and Bob Seger, both sonically and lyrically than country or Southern rock. However, being positioned in Music City and being a brilliant songwriter, he’s always rubbed shoulders with the country crowd and been signed to Nashville publishing houses. As country music continuously favors a more rock than country sound, Will Hoge, without having to make any stretches or augmentations of his sonic palette, finds himself in the sweet spot of the relevancy arch, reaping the rewards of a renewed interest in a style he’s been perfecting in one capacity or another since the mid-90’s.
With years worth of dues paid as a songwriter and performer, the sweat and music is finally paying off. Eli Young Band had a #1 hit with Will’s song “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” and the song went on to be nominated for a CMA, ACM, and a Grammy. And then most notably, Chevy picked up his song “Strong” to comprise the soundtrack for their Silverado pickup truck for the foreseeable future, just like Hoge’s sonic forefathers of Mellencamp and Seger did before him. Yes, he’s the guy who sings that song you hear played on Sunday afternoons. Some call the song a sellout, others rebuff that claim, but either way, the Will Hoge music experiment has finally paid off, and as a singer-songwriter more traditionally fit for the rock world, he must be more than happy to weather the implosion of the rock format nestled in the warm cockles of country.
Never Give In is a strong-jawed, grit-under-the-fingernails, everyday Joe affirmation of hard work ethics and navigating through hard times, and treads pretty straight down the middle of the musical path Hoge has always followed. Not as dark or dirty as say a Chris Knight, but with a comparable amount of effort to tell a story that touches people, and makes heroes out of everyday folks. Hoge can almost fool you on how deep his songwriting can go because sonically he’s not afraid to match up his stories with sensible hooks and instrumentation that cast a wide net. In this respect, even though Hoge is very much a Tennessee boy, he finds safe haven in the Texas scene that strikes this same balance between lyrical depth and musical sensibilities.
Even when Hoge is telling a happy story, like in the opening song “A Different Man,” or in “Bad ‘Ol Days,” there’s always that tinge of forlorn sorrow, and head-hanging acceptance of innate frailty. Hoge knows how to imbibe his songs with nostalgia through subtleties in lyrics instead of excessive reverb or other silly recording tricks. And when he goes for the jugular and really tries to hit on the soul of a story like he does in the song “Home Is Where The Heart Breaks,” he can touch a whole spectrum of emotional triggers.
Understand that this is a rock project, however much it may rub elbows with the country realm, and Will Hoge would tell you the same thing. But if you yearn for that time when classic rock explored and expounded on the rigors of the human condition with heart and depth, with a sound that hearkens to the Heartland, then Will Hoge and Never Give In will be just your speed.
1 ¾ of 2 guns up. 4 of 5 stars.
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November 8, 2013 @ 9:51 am
Thanks for the great review of this amazing album! I LOVE it! When I first got it a few weeks ago, I had it in my car and didn’t want to get out for wanting to hear the next song. There isn’t a weak track on it. Best of all, next Thursday I get to see Will in concert for the first time AND meet him. Sweet.
November 8, 2013 @ 12:04 pm
Hey, I’m glad you reviewed it Trigger. The only song they play on the radio station that actually plays his music here in Nashville, is the title track. To be honest, it’s a little predictable and flat for me, so I’m glad to hear there’s some better stuff on the album. I’ll check it out on your recommendation!
November 8, 2013 @ 12:07 pm
I like “Home is Where the Heart Breaks”, it reminds me of early Steve Earle.
November 8, 2013 @ 12:10 pm
That’s my favorite song as well.
November 8, 2013 @ 1:45 pm
Like a lot of the songs on the cd…but the production, which on many reminds me of mid 1980s style, bogs down the tunes. See Will live and solo to see what he really can do
November 8, 2013 @ 3:26 pm
Really liking this album right now. My favorite cut at the moment is “Daddy Was a Gambling Man.” This might be because I saw him perform it live a few months back. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about his music is that you can hear the emotion in his voice.. It’s not polished or altered to make him sound like a dull everyday rocker.
November 8, 2013 @ 8:30 pm
This artist is an example of how different the music scene has become. Here comes a guy who never claimed he’s a country artist yet totally embraced by mainstream country radio while being shunned away by mainstream rock radio.
November 8, 2013 @ 9:58 pm
The similarities between Will Hoge and John Mellencamp (who, by the way, is much more country than today’s mainstream country) are striking. The guitar melody on “Sometimes Home is Where the Heart Breaks” sounds very similar to that in Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses”.
November 10, 2013 @ 10:08 am
This is a great review of a great album. I can’t think of a song I don’t like. Every song is deep, and full of emotion. This guy is truly an artist.