Will Hoge

Carousel (Atlantic)

With Ryan Adams currently anointed as the commercial savior of roots rock, can Hoge's ascension be far behind? Since taking up music professionally in the late '90s, the singer has already evoked favorable comparisons to Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and every other sweaty bar-room bard to come before or after. True, there's nothing on this CD that hasn't been said before. But the vividness and intensity with which Hoge expresses himself warrants the wider audience he's beginning to attract.

Released independently last year, the strength of Carousel and Hoge's grassroots evangelism convinced Atlantic to climb aboard for the ride. Though the terms of Hoge's contract leave most of the heavy lifting to the songsmith and his crackerjack touring band, he is just now hitting the late-night talk-show circuit -- to the delight of insomniacs everywhere who are frustrated with the music industry's preference for the most cosmetically enhanced denominator. Hoge tackles this topic in "Rock and Roll Star," which excoriates the trend toward pushing cheekbones and tattoos over actual talent. More characteristic is "She Don't Care," a three-and-a-half-minute not-quite-love song during which the singer lusts after a babe whose "$55 haircut" puts him, with his $3 shirts, in the wrong league. Likewise, "Let Me Be Lonely" takes less than three minutes to dismiss an ex-lover whose charms amount to little more than "red lipstick and lies."

Equally bracing is the single "Your Fool," a cut that showcases Hoge's knack for busy but engaging vocal phrasing delivered at the top of his perpetually strained lungs, which calls to mind a young Elvis Costello. And like Costello, Hoge doesn't always do sincerity well. Cases in point include the cloying paean "Wish," and "Heartbreak Avenue," a so-what tale of a sixteen-year-old runaway. Such sins, however, are more than redeemed by the title cut, a poetic change of pace with sparse lyrics that give the singer an all-too-rare chance to breathe. The way things are going for Hoge, he's going to need such opportunities.

 
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