Will Hoge’s My American Dream has a copy of the U.S. Constitution printed with the lyrics in both the LP and CD, clearly signaling the messages within. Hoge is Americana’s answer to the late Gil Scott-Heron here, holding little back. Or, hearken back to Neil Young’s “Southern Man” – that’s the tone. In fact, Hoge even has a tune called “Still A Southern Man.” Hoge is angry and has plenty to say. The music is mostly hard rocking, peppered with two in the raw acoustic folk singer mode, in keeping with his direct messaging. Why be pretty when so many things need fixing? The Nashville-based Hoge recorded with his touring band – Thom Donavan (lead guitar), Chris Griffiths (bass) and Allen Ones (drums). Masterful engineer Ray Kennedy did the mixing.
Hoge addresses border police, political corruption, anti-intellectualism, poverty, gun control, a broken education system and indifference to the suffering of others. (Okay, take a breath). Hoge says, “Those things kept me up at night — and this record was less expensive than therapy,” Hoge reminds us of the importance of what we hold dear, much of what we risk losing in these dark times. He puts himself in someone else’s shoes in the homeless heartland worker who watched his job prospects go overseas in “My American Dream.” Similarly, he takes the voice of Mexican immigrant who crosses the border to provide for his family in “Illegal Line.”
The album centerpiece is the acoustic “Thoughts and Prayers,” inspired by the numerous school shootings and unresponsive politicians with these lyrics – “Why don’t you do your job up there? Keep your thoughts and prayers.” (the unsympathetic line from Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina). Others are equally direct such as comparing Trump to the circus ringmaster in “Oh Mr. Barnum” or the sarcastic, disgusted Dylan-Subterranean Homesick Blues- like “Nikki’s a Republican Now.” Also, take these lines from his opener “Gilded Walls” – “Well another group of kids in high school dead/But you’re still at your gold curse teeing off at nine/People marching in the streets trying to find a little peace/You sit around spouting more bullshit online.”
The album follows his acclaimed 2017 Anchors, where Hoge displayed a tremendous gift for songwriting and a variety of musical styles. Here, those lyrical gifts are still very much evident even though it’s a flat-out direct assault where passion reigns. His anger has a purpose beyond simply railing against what he feels is wrong. Some of the material is a search for empathy. Hoge says, “At the end of the day, that’s really what people are after, is just to be treated with some respect.” Hoge has a deep feeling for life’s fragility, having been left in critical condition by a scooter accident ten years ago. “I was n the brink of thins being a disaster. I started to see how quickly even someone who’s working hard, can end up in a situation and not see a way out.”
Hoge made his solo debut fifteen years ago. He received a Country Music Association nomination, an Academy of Country Music nomination and a Grammy nomination for “Country Song of the Year” for “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”. The song was recorded by the Eli Young Band and reached #1 on the country charts. Unlike most chart-toppers, Hoge takes up important causes, while others write about getting drunk and chasing women. Hopefully his songs get plenty of airplay in advance of the midterm elections...