On his ninth studio album, Small Town Dreams, listeners hear Will Hoge tell stories about growing up in a Southern town.
The first song, Growing Up Around Here tells of spending time trying to leave his hometown, swearing he’d never come back. But then after reminiscing about “kissing his first girl under the Texaco sign” and playing football he realizes he will never live far from where he began. He feels a sense of pride and contentment where he is now.
Track 2, They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To, tells the story of the traditional southern working class. Someone much older than the narrator would always say whether it be “cars, fences, houses, or family names, they don’t make them like they used to. This line is repeated throughout, my favorite instance being “Solid as the gospel truth, they don’t make ’em like they used to.”
As the album progresses, Better Than You and Little Bitty Dreams show his love for a girl and their lives together. LBD was written for his wife. It is comforting to hear songs of people who still have love for each other even through all of their dreams. The song is a tale of sacrifice and hardship, but love wins through everything.
Guitar or a Gun is one of the best “story” songs I’ve heard in a long time. Dad says one of these will last forever and the other’s just for fun and he knows which is which. Narrator did not know which to choose, since they could both last forever and both be for fun. “I can learn to shoot like Jesse James out there on the run. Play guitar and be a Rolling Stone. Well, that just sounds like fun. A rockstar or an outlaw, either way, I’ve won when I walk out this door with a guitar or a gun.” The choice he makes is crucial to he will become, but whichever he chooses, he will leave the pawn shop “feeling like a king.” This is a song that, to me, is Will Hoge through and through. The song has remnants of Rock and Roll Star from Hoge’s first album Carousel, which shows he can stay true to his roots.
Middle of America is the perfect small-town anthem. Fitting, given the name of the album and the reference to it in the song. “Tomorrow there’s gonna be talk, but it’ll be alright. It’s just another night in the middle of America.” I grew up in a small town and this song is remnant of that. Can we say nostalgia?
All I Want Is Us Tonight gives the listener a break before the best (and most emotional) song on this whole damn album comes on.
That leads me to Just Up The Road. The first time I listened to the album, this was the song I kept going back to. Being a person that loves words, I adored the imagery of “chasing white lines” and “taking the fast lane” in relation to the title of the song “Just Up The Road.” That is poetry at its finest. This song reminds me of It’s A Shame from Blackbird on a Lonely Wire. This song is a Will Hoge song. Of course, it’s his song, but in this sense, I’m talking about when I describe Will’s sound to people, this is my reference.
Desperate Times, The Last Thing I Needed, and Til I Do It Again wrap up the album with hand claps, the blues, and Rock and Roll, in that order. If you pay attention to the linear notes of the album, the hand claps in DT included Will’s sons which I thought was precious.
Overall, this album ultimately set out what it was supposed to do: give you the small town feel. I feel that it shows how artists can learn to stay true to their roots, just like Will always does. Rock and Roll is not dead. It just comes in different forms.