In early 2006, Americans were captivated by the Southern soul croonings of Taylor Hicks
, a modern-day bluesman who rose to fame via the well-oiled American Idol machine. Meanwhile, the similarly styled Will Hoge
was busy touring America's smoky barroom circuit, inciting his audiences to alternately weep into their whiskeys and hit the dancefloor. It was a routine that the Nashville-based artist was used to, having left the Atlantic Records roster several years prior to pursue life as an independent road warrior. Perhaps that's why his first offering on the Rykodisc label, Draw the Curtains
, boasts the sort of informed authenticity that American Idol finalists can only seem to muster several years into their post-TV career.
This is an album of countrified, bloodshot-eyed soul -- a difficult genre to execute, perhaps, but one that Hoge
often nails. His vocals crack on cue and climb the treble clef like scaffolding, channeling Otis Redding
one moment before veering into Joe Cocker
territory the next. "Barroom fights and breaking glass, broken nose and a smoker's laugh; I'm sure I probably cut my life in half," Hoge
sings on "The Highway's Home," a hint of vibrato coloring his lyrics. The track is one of Curtains
' most overtly country numbers, complete with pedal steel guitar and a midtempo gait, but its rawness still stands against the spit-shine polish of many Nashville products. Where Hoge
truly sets himself apart from those hometown contemporaries, though, is the album's early half -- specifically "When I Can Afford to Lose," "Dirty Little War," and "Silver or Gold," all of which revel in the sort of barroom rock & roll that's tailor-made for heartaches and hangovers. Hoge
's second record contract may put him back in the big leagues, but his heart still rests in the concert venues and watering holes that have housed him over the years.