Will Hoge wears many hats, all of them well 

It seems nearly impossible to discuss music anymore without the use of hyphens. Everything is a blend, a melding of influence and confluence, with the end result being that no one really knows what anything is anymore. Sometimes it's great to push the envelope; broaden your horizons and all that rubbish. Sometimes, though, you just want something that is what it is. No guessing, no cross-referencing.

That's where Will Hoge comes in. For nearly a decade, the Nashville native has been churning out honest to goodness rock 'n' roll, timeless country and bluesy soul. No hype, no gimmicks, no concept albums or remixes. A tireless live performer, Hoge has found his by playing real live music for real live people—in dive bars and juke joints, punk clubs and concert halls. Live, for an audience made up equally of dancers and drinkers, Hoge's music is visceral and poignant.

His rock songs—loud guitars, sing-along rave-up choruses, narratives about barroom brawls, lost loves and life on the road—provide the punch. When Hoge plugs in and rocks out, he's tapping into the mainline of what made rock 'n' roll great in the first place. It's a little bit sloppy, a little bit ugly, a little bit dangerous. It makes you want to start a fight, sleep with the wrong person and get in trouble with the law.

When Hoge goes country, he does it better than any Music Row grease puppet could ever dream. Backed by twangy steel guitar and mid-tempo rhythms, Hoge's voice is just raw enough for his earnest and emotive songs. The juxtaposition of blue collar lyrics against a backdrop of gorgeous, often subtle melodies has always been one of the most engaging elements of hard-scrabble country, and Hoge delivers in spades.

When it comes to the blues, Hoge puts a lot of soul into 12 bars, especially when he's got the Hammond organ whirring and his best Otis Redding is coming through the P.A. Tending more toward the Stax side of the blues/soul universe than the Robert Johnson, Hoge nevertheless calls to mind dusty roads and rides hitched on the back of pickup trucks, travels both away from fickle women and toward coveted ones, and a lifetime of troubles providing both resistance and momentum.

No matter which guise Hoge finds himself in from song to song, none feels like a costume, or like an afterthought. Will Hoge is not an alt-country-soul artist. Will Hoge is a rock artist, Will Hoge is a country artist and Will Hoge is a soul artist. That he manages to make each his own while making himself each, in turn, is a testament to his passion for the craft he has chosen, and a boon to those who see the man at work. So unhyphenate for a while and let Hoge's passion and purism pour you something strong and neat. You can always go back to mixed drinks next week.

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

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