Will Hoge is as gifted a songwriter as they come. He is probably most well known for writing ‘Strong,’ featured in the Chevy commercials or Eli Young Band’s Grammy winning ‘Even If It Breaks Your Heart.’ However, Hoge’s latest creation, Small Town Dreams, is an entire album of songwriting brilliance. Produced by Marshall Altman, (Frankie Ballard and Eric Paslay) it features Hoge’s signature blend of country and rock and roll which makes him hard to place in one genre or the other.
“At some point, country music became more inclusive,” he says. “‘People bust on country all the time — ‘this bro-country thing, it’s so bad, blah blah blah’ — but there’s a part of me that can’t say that, because I feel like those artists have broadened the tent so much that it’s given me a place to go. I don’t have to do anything different. I still write my songs. I still do what I do. I haven’t changed my formula at all, but all of a sudden, people are letting me go to that party,” he tells Rolling Stone Country.
Either way, Will Hoge’s formula is working.
The album begins with a nostalgic hometown tune called ‘Growing Up Around Here.’ It tells the story of a common narrative in small town life where everyone wants to get out someday, but after maturing a little and coming back home, a certain appreciation for where you come from blossoms. I remember driving around my hometown listening to this song and I have to say, it makes you feel exactly what it’s supposed to. The following track ‘They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To,’ is an emotional song about a father’s wisdom being passed onto his son, especially when it comes to being a musician. Driven by a piano melody and a screaming guitar solo at the end, it’s an ode to fathers that’s sure to connect with people everywhere. ‘Strong’ reminds me of my father and now I have to thank Will again for another song to send him on Father’s Day this year.
‘Little Bitty Dreams’ relies on a simple acoustic guitar melody to deliver one of the most powerful tracks on the album. The song, at its core, is about growth and maturity. As a kid you have all these lofty dreams, but as you grow up, fall in love, and have children, those dreams start to change. You hit a point when you know that you wouldn’t have life any other way, that idea is what makes this song one of pure beauty.
‘Guitar Or A Gun’ is a rocking tune about a boy saving up for his “first big decision.” Lyrically, this track is full of great lines such as “six strings or six bullets and even throws a shout out to Jesse James and The Rolling Stones. I personally chose a guitar as a kid myself and something leads me to believe Will Hoge might have as well.
The lead single ‘Middle Of America’ has shades of that top 40 sound that country music loves so much and perfectly paints the picture of all the details of small town life in middle America. If one song had to sum up the entire album, this would be the one.
Finally, my favorite track, ‘Just Up The Road’ is another piano driven track about making the most of your life with your significant other and chasing your dreams together. I got a weak spot for piano tunes, but the shinning star of this song is the amazing guitar licks over the piano. The guitar solo and ending guitar work is heavenly. In the outro, you can feel the raw emotion in Will’s vocals with that guitar screaming in the background. It’s perfection.
From one to eleven, Small Town Dreams is the soundtrack to growing up in America. It has love, heartbreak, growing up, chasing dreams, and struggling to get by all wrapped into one beautiful package of the American experience. Music is designed to connect with the listener on multiple levels and Will Hoge’s songwriting has mastered the concept perfectly. When you hear this album, you feel something, rather multiple things, and you can believe in all of them. It’s real, it’s country, it’s rock and roll, and it’s damn near perfect.