Will Hoge

Never Give In

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Since 2001, Nashville singer and songwriter Will Hoge has steadfastly and stubbornly tread a singular path through a brutal and increasingly confused music industry. He's been with the majors, the big independents, and on his own. He's actually thrived, becoming an in-demand songwriter who has grown his audience through quality releases and a relentless touring schedule. Never Give In is aptly titled. These 11 songs are potent, chock-full of great story songs all delivered in under four minutes. They wed guitar-driven rock & roll, country, Americana, and Southern R&B. Love is the prevalent theme here. Opener "A Different Man" reveals the influence of Bob Seger. It's anthemic rock underscored with a grainy, R&B-tinged delivery framed by a stirring female gospel chorus. It's what a rock & roll love song should sound like. The hook-laden rocker "Goodbye Ain't Always Gone" reflects love's other side. Despite the bravado in the lyric, the protagonist's raw vulnerability saturates the song. There are textures and production touches in the title track that recall those that John Mellencamp used on Scarecrow, but the song is pure Hoge: it's the individual and his beloved against the world. Despite its time-worn theme, the singer really sells it. The meld of Americana and contemporary country in "Still Got You on My Mind," with Kristen Kelly's and Ashley Monroe's plaintive, earthy backing vocals, makes it a prime candidate for a single. "Home Is Where the Heart Breaks" is a hard luck story told in a big way. With its melodic hook, ringing slide guitars, power chords, rolling drums, and an R&B backing chorus, Hoge's protagonist is thoroughly beaten, but surrender still isn't an option; the guitars hold him up even as he falters. "Daddy Was a Gambling Man" is a lean, lilting country story-song, with a melody as beautiful and moving as anything he's written. "Bad Ol Days" is a rocker that juxtaposes gratitude and the nostalgic wish for excess, and contains genuine irony. "Damn Spotlight (Julia's Song)" is the set's most tender ballad. It's sad as hell, but the longing in the grain of Hoge's voice as it hovers above the sparse, atmospheric mix offers a portrait of a character so thoroughly bereft he has no choice but to fake it until he makes it -- or dies. The set's first single, "Strong," is a bonus cut. Chevy used it in its 2014 Silverado pickup campaign. It's a midtempo rock ballad balancing acoustic and electric guitars, dobro, and lonesome B-3 with majestically played drums. It convincingly portrays an everyman -- tough, reliable, and generous -- much like Seger's "Like a Rock," also used by Chevy, though they sound nothing alike. It's a fitting closer for Never Give In, an album that abundantly captures all of Hoge's strengths as both singer and songwriter.

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