There's always been a fine line between rockabilly and mainstream country music, and the roster of legendary artists who have walked that line certainly includes Johnny Cash - pun fully intended - as well as Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course, Elvis. South Carolina-born Derek Hoke may or may not end up being spoken of in the same reverent terms as they, but "Southern Moon", his first new release in four years, is a nicely crafted effort that touches a lot of the same bases. All 10 tracks were written by Hoke alone or with his partner Dexter Green, and Green's production mixes a variety of arrangements and tempos for a result that enables each song to stand apart on its own. There just aren't any dead spots.
Comparisons can be misleading sometimes, unintentionally suggesting to some that an artist's work is "derivative" of others, and it should be made clear that Hoke's voice is strong, clear, comfortable, and entirely his own. On "Nothing I Won't Do" it carries the easy flow and breezy confidence of Orbison in his late 50s heyday, while "This Old House" evokes the emotion and passion of the early years of Vince Gill's career. "Trouble In Mind," on the other hand, is the kind of bluesy romp that Ray Charles would have had a good time with.
Hoke's voice is fully capable of taking advantage of material that ranges across this wide a spectrum, and the musicians backing him up are first-rate as well. Call it country, call it blues, call it rockabilly - it's all pretty good.