Do you ever listen to something and just feel baffled that everyone isn’t as in love with the music as you are? That’s how it was for me when I came, regrettably late, to Will Hoge. His was a name I’d heard bandied around a lot, but honestly, his back catalogue was rather large and the thought of diving in daunted me for a long time. When I did finally make the leap however, it was tremendously rewarding and has given me not only someone who now sits in my all time top ten artists, but also one of the best live performers I’ve ever seen, period.
So for anyone else wanting to make that leap of discovery, here is what I managed to narrow down (after much toing and froing with my shortlist) to be ten essential tracks that just might help you get started.
Number 10: ‘Middle of America’ from ‘Small Town Dreams’ (2015)
Hoge’s most mainstream friendly album and a great record to start with – this track is a stonker about rural town life that proves he can write fantastic songs that wouldn’t feel the least bit out of place on commercial country radio.
Number 9: ‘Guitar or a Gun’ from ‘Small Town Dreams’ (2015)
Nothing more than a deceptively simply written song that juxtaposes two common American pawn shop items: a guitar and a gun.
Number 8: ‘Jesus Came to Tennessee’ from ‘Modern American Protest Songs’ EP (2012)
This song is – as the title suggests – about what might happen if Jesus turned up in modern day Tennessee, resulting in not only a song filled with razor sharp wit (where else can you hear the names Merle Haggard, John Lennon and Jesus all in the same song?), but also one sure to give you pause for thought.
Number 7: ‘Even if it Breaks Your Heart’ from ‘The Wreckage’ (2009)
This is probably considered Hoge’s biggest hit, although it was a version recorded by Eli Young Band that got to #1. A great anthem to not giving up on your dreams, and if you’re ever lucky enough to catch one of Hoge’s shows, the sing-along for this will be in your head for days after.
Number 6: ‘When I Get My Wings’ from ‘Number Seven’ (2011)
If sad songs are your thing, then this story of someone unable to get over the death of their beloved is about as gut wrenching as it gets; and it’s only made even more effective by a fantastic vocal performance from Hoge.
Number 5: ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ from ‘My American Dream’ (2018)
Sadly still as relevant today as it was when it was originally released, this is a searing criticism of gun control and the NRA’s part in it.
Number 4: ‘Still a Southern Man’ single (2015)
Released first as a stand-alone single before being re-recorded a couple of years later for Hoge’s 2018 ‘My American Dream’ concept album, this is an attack against the idea that the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride, when it’s actually glorifying slavery of the pre-Civil War American South.
Number 3: ‘Woman Be Strong’ from ‘The Man Who Killed Love’ (2006)
One of my few earlier picks, this song hails from ‘The Man Who Killed Love’ (which is not available on YouTube weirdly, but can be found on Spotify) and it earned a place on this list simply because of how incredibly raw and soulful it truly is.
Number 2: ‘Cold Night in Santa Fe’ from ‘Anchors’ (2017)
Another sad one about a relationship dying in front of one’s eyes, this might just be my favourite Hoge vocal performance of all, with every crack of his voice conveying the painful loss of longingly remembered glory days.
Number 1: ‘Goodnight / Goodbye’ from ‘The Wreckage’ (2009)
With the peerless Ashley Monroe on guest vocals, this is a ballad and a half about going through the motions in a dying relationship you’re unable put out of its misery.