Can you fall in love with an album or an artist by hearing only one song? The answer for me is a resounding YES!! That happened to me many moons ago when I heard one of the coolest songs I have ever heard. The song was “Not That Cool” by Will Hoge. The song was about me. He reached into my soul and wrote this song just for me. Ok, he didn’t really, but it felt like it was.
Will Hoge has been described as Americana, Alt. Country with a Southern Rock flair and it fits him perfectly. He has a little pop, a little blues and if you need to compare him to other artists then go with John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen or even Bob Dylan. Will’s ability to tell a story that can be bleak at times and uplifting at others is a shot in the arm and shows the power that can be found in music. His lyrics are an honest interpretation of what is going in America and at times a giant slap in the face. His genius lies in the words as well as the music and it is that gritty voice that draws you in and makes you care about what he has to say.
I thought it was time to rank his albums from what I think is his worst to what I feel is his best. Remember, this is what I like as a fan…not as a critic. Critics get paid, I don’t. So, if you don’t agree with this order, that is great and I think happens with every band. It is all about your timing in to the artist and what you like. This for me, is what I like. I hope you enjoy. I did something a little different with Will and included his 3 Studio E.P’s. along with his Studio albums and jumps the count up to 13 albums to go through, so grab a beer and relax and enjoy!
THE WORST – THE AMERICA E.P. (2004):
Will Hoge’s E.P.’s tend to lean more political and I do love a good political song. His first one was only 5 tracks and it was during the George W. Bush era so you can imagine what it covers. I think this was a valiant effort, but of the E.P.’s, by far the weakest, and even worst than the albums. This was 2004 and he was still finding himself as a songwriter and person and he still wasn’t quite there yet. This is where he was trying to be Dylan or hoping to be and quite didn’t make it. But still worth a listen.
#12 – ANCHORS (2017):
Now, no album is really bad with Will, it is just some left me feeling a little depressed afterwards as the album never had any uplifting moments. ‘Anchors’ was one that was a little too depressing for me. The album felt bleak and all of it sounded the same. I like for him to have a few more rocking tracks while this one seem to be mostly tamer songs full of melancholy and heartache…at least that is how it made me feel. The album also felt too country and less outlaw. It did have a few shining moments with “Baby Eyes” and “Little Bit of Rust”, but outside of that it missed the mark for me.
#11 – NEVER GIVE IN (2013):
Will Hoge went real country on this album and I think that is where it lost me. His songs have always had a country feel, but he mixed that with some rock, some outlaw and some southern rock, but I felt that was missing for a lot of this. The good thing is you won’t confuse Will for that Bro-Country sound and thank God for that. Will is more left of center towards the Alt-Country and maybe even Outlaw, but this brought him closer to the center than I would like. Again, as with every album there are always tracks worth mentioning and “Never Give In”, “Goodbye Ain’t Always Gone” and “Stronger” are a few of the better tracks on the album.
#10 – DRAW THE CURTAINS (2007):
Now we are in business from this point forward. “Draw the Curtains” is great and sees Will more like a blues man at times and then you get someone who sounds like they’ve been playing all the roadhouses all across the country. Will’s writing was really starting to find its groove here and he was finding out who was and really captured the feelings down deep in your soul. He mixed the album with slower tracks, rockers and everything in between. There are a lot of good tracks here especially with “Dirty Little War”, the fun “Sex Lies & Money”, the bluesy “When I Can Afford to Lose” and the Katrina-impacted “Washed by the Water”.
#9 – SMALL TOWN DREAMS (2015):
If you like John Mellencamp, then I think you are getting Will’s own ‘Pink Houses’ type album. The big track on here “Middle of America” could’ve been on a Mellencamp album or hell, even a Bob Seger album. The song is representative of what the album is all about. It is a bunch of stories about the heart of America. One of my all time favorite tracks of Will’s is on here called “Guitar or a Gun” about a boy with money and trying to figure out which to buy with is lawn mowing money. One could give him a career and one could be for fun. Deciding on which one was which was the hard part. It is songs like this that fill the album and shows that Will can tap in to American like so few can. also check out “All I Want is Us Tonight” and “They Don’t Make them Like They Used To”.
#8 – MODERN AMERICAN PROTEST MUSIC (2012):
One thing Will can do is write a protest song. His first attempt at this with an earlier E.P. didn’t go so well, but this E.P. saw him find his voice and let me tell you isn’t afraid to lay it all out there in all its ugly truth. Will set out to be shocking and getting people to talk about topics that need to be talked about and with songs like “Jesus Came to Tennessee” and “The Ballad of Trayvon Martin”, Will is ready for a fight. Is the album controversial? That tends on how uncomfortable you are talking about the issues he discusses. This is where Will feels like Bob Dylan in how he speaks and performs. It is awesome.
#7 – MY AMERICAN DREAM (2018):
Not be one to shy away from controversy, Will is at again with another protest type album. This one is all thanks to former President Trump. And WOW!, Will doesn’t hold back. The “Gilded Walls”, “My American DreaM” lay it all out on the line and then you get something as fun as “NIkki’s A Republican Now” and you can’t help by laugh and smile with that one on how ridiculous it is thanks to those wonderful lyrics. It is awesome. “Thoughts & Prayers” is a shout to those wonderful Senators and Congressman who don’t do a damn thing to solve any of our crisis, but they offer up those useless thoughts & prayers instead of taking any kind of action to fix it. If you like to see the craziness of where our country was a few years back (and ins some ways still is), then this is the one for you.
#6 – CAROUSEL (2001):
Now, this is the major label debut and what a great place to start. There was an album prior to this, but I have never heard it, seen it or can find it anywhere so for me this is the debut. I have repeatedly said that Will was more Petty, Mellencamp and Springsteen, but with this early release, he had elements of The Wallflowers and Counting Crows and had a 90’s vibe to his music but taking it in to the next century. I found this to be a up and coming artists grand attempt at trying to get notice and let me tell you I did. Songs like “Sweet Magdeline”, “She Don’t Care” and “Your Fool” show that there is an earnest and true talent on the verge of exploding. This is more rock than country which is probably why I like it so much. Will could rock out at one time and I love it.
#5 – NUMBER SEVEN (2011):
An album where Will started mixing more country with his rock and actually got the mix to work perfectly or at least better than some later albums. He some blues rockers like “Fool’s Gonna Fly” and then lays down some sweet slide guitars on “Too Old to Die Young” and my favorite “Goddam California”. Then he starts to shine even brighter with his more singer/songwriter type songs like “The Illegal Line” (another favorite) and “Silver Chain” and “No Man’s Land” which all a reminiscent of Dylan and Petty and That is the perfect mix!
#4 – THE MAN WHO KILLED LOVE (2006):
The follow-up to my favorite album (you will see soon) sees Will still rock out and party, but also start to write deeper and more heartfelt songs. The opening track “Pocket Full of Change” reminds of The Black Crowes and at times you hear Otis Redding with “Woman Strong”. But with all the comparisons it is all Will Hoge front and center with that gravelly voice and incredible songwriting with songs like the beautiful ballad “Lover Tonight” and the killer title track “The Man Who Killed Love”. Will keeps getting better and better and this is another giant step forward in becoming the artist he is today.
#3 – THE WRECKAGE (2009):
After a near-death experience from a car crash, Will had some time on his hands to contemplate that experience while learning how to walk again and turn it in to one of the best album he has done. This could be his most personal album and most autobiographical record as well. It is full of great stories like “Favorite Waste of Time”, “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” as two shining examples, but that isn’t all. His vocals are emotive and heartwrenching at times with “Goodnight/Goodbye” and the Petty-like “Highway Wings”. This is stellar example of Americana music at its absolute finest. Man, I am going to throw this one on again and give it a listen.
#2 – TINY LITTLE MOVIES (2020):
I was completely blown away by what I heard with this album. “Tiny Little Movies” is just what it says. It is 11 songs that each one feels like its own tiny little movie. He brings a little Americana music mixed with his Country and Rock & Roll roots and if you thought John Mellencamp painted a true picture of Middle America and its problems, Will adds more color and texture to that painting and brings it in to the 21st Century. This isn’t Country , think more in terms of Springsteen and Petty and you will have an idea where I place him.
The album can rock out with songs such as my personal favorite “The Overthrow” which doesn’t speak too fondly of today’s leaders and Will takes on the slimiest of people in “Con Man Blues” filled with some dirty, blues guitar. With “The Curse”, I’m taken back to his early days with albums like ‘Blackbird on a Lonely Wire’ with a little more catchy groove and chorus. I mentioned Petty earlier, I feel his influence all over “That’s How You Lose Her”, it is splendid. His Country flare is on full display on a more traditional country song that talks about the small town problem with people moving out in “Even the River Runs Out of This Town” (love that title). Then if you want something to take you in a whole other direction, check out “My Worst” which is more of a rock ballad with a killer guitar solo, sorry 2 solos. If “The Overthrow” is my favorite, this is right on its heels. This one might be the best album he has ever done, but the #1 is more of a personal favorite for me.
#1 – BLACKBIRD ON A LONELY WIRE (2003):
“Not That Cool” was the song that led me to discover Will Hoge. It was a song about a young man that wants to talk to a women but the only problem was he doesn’t feel cool enough to even approach her and use a corny line. That guy was me. I am so not cool and could never have the courage to walk up to a pretty woman and give her a line. I was way too shy for that. However, I still managed to snag a very beautiful woman and somehow she agreed to marry me. Almost 20 years later, we are still together. I would say that is pretty cool.
‘Blackbird on a Lonely Wire’ is probably his most accessible, most radio-friendly album and it also had John Shanks as a producer (the man that ruined Bon Jovi) which might make some people hate it, but it was full of great stories, full of life, full of fun even though the topics weren’t always fun. It was Middle America laid out in all it’s troubled glory. Songs like “Secondhand Heart”, “Hey Tonight” and “Better Off Now (that You’re Gone)” grab hold and don’t let go. The album breathes life and what it is all about, warts and all. “Baby Girl”, “Be The One” and “TV Set” can’t be missed either. Who am I kidding, nothing can be or should be missed. As close to perfection as you can get.
And there you have it, the Will Hoge studio albums in order of how I rank them from the worst to the best. Let me know what you think. Where did we differ and where did we agree. What is fun about these list is how differently each album impacts people. What I like, you might not, but we like the same artist and that is all that matters really. And if as a result, you find something new, then my job is done!!!