Will Hoge’s Tiny Little Movies spins on an asphalt bumped Americana road that still hopes for brand new concrete. That’s the gist of America: We have an insatiable thirst for salvation and a penitent promise to pray, but we just can’t cough up enough holy water to ever say, “Amen”.
Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee simply sang, ‘Walk On’. This album does something like that.
Will Hoge sews up an American quilt that stitches alt-country, folk, (pretty) hard rock, some soul, a slew of clever words, a glance toward Dylan, Prine (RIP), Springsteen, and Kristofferson; and then he tosses a Whiskey Rebellion chaser into the mix.
But (once again!) a few hors d’oeuvres:
As a generality, Tiny Little Movies rocks with a tougher edge than his previous records. ‘Con Man Blues’ is a wah-wah stampede of a holler that sounds like ‘Maggie’s Farm’ pumped up with an angry jumping bean vitamin and ‘that big ol’ ‘gator/Puttin’ on the zoom” that John Fogerty sang about in ‘Hot Rod Heart’. Apparently, somebody is a “white trash hooker in cheap makeup” who is “just fakin’” because “it’s everything you do”. Yeah, “there’s a whole lotta” Huck Finn Duke and King conning in America right now.
By the way, Will Hoge, just like Lucinda Williams and Alejandro Escovedo, has been randomly wind-blown (like an equally random sagebrush) into American treasure status.
Fans of Armed Forces era Elvis Costello should check out his (big-time) Atlantic release, Carousel.
Fans of Van Morrison should hear Draw The Curtains.
A really odd idea: ‘My Worst’ recalls the nagging patience of Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’; but more importantly, what with the guardian moon organ, soulful backing vocals, Procol Harum drama, an absolutely gut-wrenching Mick Ralphs-like guitar solo, and naked lead vocal, it echoes the sound of (my beloved) Mott the Hoople, circa ‘The Journey’ from the brilliant Brain Capers or ‘I Can Feel’ from the equally brilliant Mad Shadows. That’s not such a stretch because the blueprint for Mott was Bob Dylan fronting the Rolling Stones. So, this is high (and very deep) praise.
And just so you know, Will’s song ‘Strong’ is the soundtrack to a Chevy truck commercial. And although the tune is burly alt-folk stuff, it barely touches the expanse of the music on this record.
Gram Parker once sang, “Passion is no ordinary word”. True. And this is no ordinary album.
Sorry about these hors d’oeuvres. But, as my friend, Kilda Defnut, often says, “Rock music is nothing more than dancing in celebration with all those melodic carbohydrates.”
And this record, if nothing else, lets those carbohydrates do their sweaty Whiskey Rebellion dance. Perhaps, that’s a weird way of avoiding the end of any American prayer, because as Bruce Springsteen sang, “Baby, we were born to run”.
But to the main menu. ‘Midway Motel’ is a bullet proof broadside that condenses the Will Hoge footprint into the melodic rough-hewn Walt Whitman poem that finds beauty in the common words spoken by common people and is able to “sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world”. It’s a song that will never bother with a Kevlar vest. And it details the motel vision; yeah, another prayer with only “a bible and a telephone and a TV that keeps flashed off and on”. Then ‘The Overthrow’ hits hard. This is big riff rock music. And the lyrics (sort of) spit some truth, with an image of “a TV preacher with a fat lip crying in the pulpit all alone”, and a mention of “Darth Vader with a spray gun and a girly magazine”. Lots of “darkness at the edge of town” stuff. Now, ‘Maybe This Is OK’ begins like a very clever Elvis Costello tune, circa Imperial Bedroom, and then the song explodes into a guitar frenzy well beyond ‘Oliver’s Army’.
‘Even The River Runs Out Of This Town’ is beautiful, acoustic, and once again, the tune finds a way to flow beyond the word Amen. Just like Bob Dylan, we are all still just “watching the river flow”.
It’s just a thought, but America is like Thomas Edison’s search for the lightbulb filament: He tried six-thousand bits of whatever he could find in his attempt light the country. He lit up cedar thread fiber; he shot a current through hickory and bamboo. Eventually, he hit the casino jackpot with carbonized cotton, and that was pretty great for the moment. But, of course, we “walked on” because America, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “creates want by holding back nothing at all”. But metaphorically, in America, Abe Lincoln was a filament that burned for a bit; Eugene Debs flared for a moment; Rosa Parks lit up the moral universe; and Colin Kaepernick still smolders in an equal attempt at justice. As said, it’s all about a bumpy asphalt road and an open-ended prayer that has yet to cross some sort of moral finish line.
And, tough leather Americana folk rock follows suit with (to use the Jerry Lee phrase once again!) ‘a whole lotta shakin’” during “a winter” of ‘a whole lotta discontent”.
But, as Tolkien wrote, “The road goes ever on”. ‘That’s How You Lose Her’ evokes the sheer honesty of a Blue Rodeo (as seen through the eyes of Greg Keelor) song. Ditto for the plaintiff pain of ‘Is That All That You Wanted Me For’. Then, ‘The Likes Of You’ quells the passion with introspection that has “seen the wild flowers bloom”. And ‘The Curse’ rekindles that bullet proof broadside of ‘Midway Motel’ and (sort of) gets jangly.
It all rides off into some sort of a sunset with ‘All The Pretty Horses’, a pretty and patient tune that quietly bluffs the other players with a pair of deuces in a game of proletariat poker.
Tiny Little Movies is a very American record that prays a lot, rocks a lot more, spins its wheels on a bumpy asphalt road that, like any Edison experiment, or perhaps, America itself, just wants to always find, thankfully, something a little bit better; and in my Kilda’s own words, “Get those melodic carbohydrates dancing once again”.
Artist’s website: https://www.willhoge.com/
‘Even the River Runs out of This Town’: