Much like Springsteen and Mellencamp, Will Hoge recognizes that even the most sweeping epics are essentially borne from an individual's ordeals. Indeed, the title tells it all; "Small Town Dreams" is essentially a look at a rapidly fading pastiche, that of life in middle America, where for all the touting of an economic recovery, the struggle for survival still persists. Hoge documents these tales from a knowing, first-person point of view, giving each scenario the credibility - and respectability - that the characters deserve. It's touching and enlightening, and just what's needed to put the focus back on the heartland, the place where it belongs.
For all the ache and desperation these narratives entail, Hoge's resolute attitude, defiance and determination are the elements that rise to the fore. "It's too late for me to go crazy, so I'm holding out as long as I can," he declares on "Desperate Times," one of the most driven songs of the set. That decided determination also resonates to the fullest on the opening salvo, "Growing Up Around Here," which finds Hoge taking musical cues from Tom Petty while affirming a genuine sense of self.
Hoge is essentially his own man, and it's a credit to his credence that he never comes across as a poser or pretender. Consequently, "Small Town Dreams" boasts a kind of incandescent delivery and drive that makes a live rendition of each of these tracks easy to imagine.
So far, Hoge appears to be doing it right, building to bigger audiences while still keeping his homespun perspective intact. It makes a big difference, and potential admirers will likely perceive it too. Both rocking and reflective, "Small Town Dreams" is chock full of the kind of ready for prime time anthems that effectively assert both his acumen and authority.