Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Will Hoge and A Thousand Horses

Will Hoge – Wings On My Shoes

The man who bought some nice furniture for writing Even If It Breaks Your Heart for Eli Young Band is a solo artist of some repute. Will Hoge writes heartland rock songs which tick all the boxes in what I personally like: huge choruses, melodic guitar lines and lyrics delivered with panache and a bit of grit. Self-produced, it’s on his own label Edlo.

The album’s opening track John Prine’s Cadillac (‘I’m smiling like a sinner on a month without Sundays’) is a perfect start to this new collection, Will’s thirteenth, which is happily in the tradition of the late patron saint of singer-songwriters. Will remains a fine guide for those trying to write rock’n’roll music and he knows his heritage.

It’s Just You begins with a plea to take Beatles, The Band and Rolling Stones records from his life and has something not many songs have nowadays: dynamic interest, as it builds from a quiet middle section to the fortissimo final chorus.

The love song You Are The Place is bellowable and evokes a great mood of going ‘back and forth across the interstate line’. There is a key change, then a return to the main key, just to see if people are listening. The album’s second side opens with the explosive bar band song All I Can Take, where Will opens his lungs and shouts about protagonists who read Hemingway and go to their jobs in insurance while trying not to fall off the treadmill.

It’s not all fist-punching rock’n’roll music. He’s reminiscin’ on Ain’t How It Used To Be, where ‘you do just like your mama and daddy did’, and strumming through his heartache on Birmingham. Queenie is a portrait of his strong grandma Maybelline who ‘cussed like a sailor’ but would cry as well, a fine influence on young Will. Patton Oswalt has said that love is accepting that one of you will have to bury the other one, which seems to be the inspiration for the meditative The Last One to Go.

The album’s six-minute track Dead Man’s Hand is a movie miniature that someone will make into a short film. I won’t even tell you what it’s about, because it’s easier just to listen to it, but I like the line ‘“I’ve got a plan”…the famous last words spoken by every desperate man’. The album ends with the toe-tapper Whose God Is This, which imagines a bar patronised by Gandhi, Mozart, Buddha, Zeus and Jesus, as well as what we imagine is a patriotic American who needs to leave.

The barman is called John. John Prine could have written that song, which is perhaps the highest and most obvious praise I can give for one of his apostles.

A Thousand Horses – Broken Heartland

In 2015, when I started paying attention to contemporary country music, I was impressed by the two-chord singalong This Ain’t No Drunk Dial. The band who released it were A Thousand Horses, who had a big hit with another two-chord singalong called Smoke. The album was called Southernality and it hit the same beats that The Cadillac Three did. Both bands were on the same label, Big Machine, which felt like splitting the market.

Unsurprisingly, while TC3 headlined The Long Road in 2022, A Thousand Horses are independent and, SEVEN YEARS after Southernality, have followed up their Dave Cobb-produced debut, albeit having put out an EP and sundry singles in between. The title track kicks us off with a bang and locates us in a musical world full of riffs and melodies, and the rootsy Another Mile follows it. That track is nothing Jason Aldean hasn’t done 100 times before, but vocalist Michael Hobby uses his instrument well.

Since they are buddies with Zac Brown’s crew, it makes sense that Niko Moon co-wrote the waltz Every Time You Love Me, where Michael finds salvation in human form which has replaced the alcohol and smoky bars. There is a ‘survival/revival’ rhyme in the second verse, which prepares us for the gospel backing vocals in the song’s final minute.

Jon Nite co-wrote the smouldering Starting Fires, which opens with an image of a couple feeling each other’s skin and ends on an unresolved chord. The reminiscin’ song When I Hear Your Name has a melody which reminds me of a Chris Young song, which makes sense because his producer Corey Crowder was there to help the band write it. It’s very middle of the road, as is Gone, a weepie with one of many fine guitar solos on the album.

Jonathan Singleton was there for both the title track (which is also co-credited to the late Andrew Dorff) and Don’t Stop (‘breaking my heart…messing me up’), which is saturated with the same power-rock sound he helped Luke Combs get on his recent album, although Luke would never encourage his woman to smoke his cannabis. Not any more, at least.

Lee Thomas Miller was in the room for Define Me and Never Liked The Rain. The former sounds an awful lot like a corporate rock song by Creed or 3 Doors Down, complete with the mysterious line ‘I was static in the noise’, while the latter is a country power ballad. The album ends with the song Carry Me, a bluesy jam that is far more impactful than a lot of the MOR country on an album which will be better in a sweaty club than on record.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: