After 10 albums, Will Hoge’s still delivers on heartland promise

willhoge2015Will Hoge has scuffled on the edges of success for more than 10 years, whether you count his major label signing to Atlantic in 2002 as a starting point, or his mid-1990’s independent release Spoonful.

He is midwestern heartland rock and roll, with a doses of country, some Dylen-seque folk, cracking drums and loud guitars.

His new record, dare I proclaim, is his best record. It could be the best album John Mellencamp never made.  It is an album will hit that fans of that Petty/Seger/Springsteen/Mellencamp/rock and roll with a slap on the back and a punch in the gut; a reminder of what they love about rock music.

But it’s 2015 and he’s got a lot of miles behind him, both literally (as a touring rocker) or metaphorically (he’s been putting out good stuff for years, with little victories and incremental successes).

With his new album Small Town Dreams, out April 7, Hoge has recorded his Scarecrow.

Small Town Dreams is Hoge’s first collaboration with producer Marshall Altman.  Hoge self-produced his last three albums, but wanted to get Altman after hearing his work on Eric Paslay’s “Friday Night” and Frankie Ballard’s “Helluva Life”.  Hoge told Rolling Stone that he wanted to make music true to his intentions, but, with the new fans found from his song “Strong” being used in a Chevy commercial and Eli Young Band’s version of “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” going to the top of the charts, work on getting on the radio.

That’s essentially why he brought in Altman, who Hoge said was already a friend and fan.

It works. Or it should work.  Radio stations can find lots of good stuff that sounds heartfelt, from-the-gut, rowdy and beautiful in a real, rough-edged way.  The single “Middle of America” was an iTunes release late last year, and jumps out as an anthem, the slow burn of “Just Up The Road” is a pounding plea to the promise of escape, and the leadoff track “Growing Up Around Here” strikes a Seger sound in the verse with some big piano chords and a midtempo majestic ride throughout.

I stumbled onto Hoge one night at the Rathskeller almost ten years ago in downtown Indianapolis, on a warm July night.  I knew of him, and was just smart enough to show up at the show. Hoge had brought ex-Georgia Satellite leader Dan Baird along to play guitar.  I realized that when I saw a gangly dude next to the beer tub, and thought to myself.  “What?  Shit. That’s Dan Baird.”  Still one of my favorite shows ever.

And this album sounds like it will be too.

Closest to Indy show? Hoge and his band play the Mercury Ballroom in Louisville, KY on May 29.

Hear “Just Up The Road”

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