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Will Hoge

Anchors – 2017 (Thirty Tigers)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Will Hoge

There's no dispute that Will Hoge has survived the troubadour's life over the course of his nearly 20-year career. He self-released his early albums, scored and extricated himself from a major label contract and moved into the indie system. He's funded and toured with a full band before economic reality forced him down a solo road path. He's scored a couple of hits by way of his songs being covered by Lady Antebellum and the Eli Young Band; he's gotten a song placed in a commercial for Chevy trucks, and his loyal fan base has helped a few of his albums notch respectable sales figures.

Hoge's 11th studio album, "Anchors," comes on the heels of his two most successful country albums to date, 2013's "Never Give In" and 2015's "Small Town Dreams." Hoge doesn't abandon the template of those successes on "Anchors" - there are still the requisite shifts between quiet country reflection and more aggressive and expansive Bruce Springsteen/Tom Petty anthemics - he just tweaks the theme, this time exploring the travails of middle aged dissatisfaction and frustration. After all, an anchor can be your savour in a storm, but it can also be the intractable force that keeps you pinned to a single spot.

Hoge sets his observational skills on empty and broken marriages ("The Grand Charade," "Cold Night in Sante Fe," "Through Missing You"), setting them in his emotive and atmospheric vision of a country soundtrack that often veers in the gauzy direction of John Hiatt's heartland twang, particularly on the swirling cosmic soundscape of the title track. In his more forceful moments, Hoge employs a Stonesy rumble to examine the acceptance and determination that accompanies age and experience ("Little Bit of Rust") and goes into full Heartbreakers mode as he bucks in his stall in defiance of life's attempts to constrain him ("This Ain't No Original Sin," "Young as We Will Ever Be"). Hoge established this dynamic emotional and sonic range early on and with "Anchors," he navigates the choppy waters between them with even greater skill and grace.