"Took a whole lot of miles to know what I know now," sings Will Hoge on"Growing Up Around Here," the opening track off of his tenth studio album, Small Town Dreams. "I'm kinda proud of growing up around here." It's been a whole lot of miles, indeed: miles on the road, driving the bus himself from venue to venue since the nineties; miles to and from Nashville writing rooms, where he's spent countless hours penning songs – some for him, some for others; miles exploring lands outside of his native Franklin, Tennessee, chasing the spirits of his musical heroes. Roads meet, roads split, roads led to home. This is the album that follows them all, every twist and turn in Hoge's American journey – a journey that's positioned him as one of our keenest, most honest modern storytellers, telling both his tale and ours.

"It's a reflection of where I am currently in my life," says Hoge of Small Town Dreams, "but also where I grew up, and, ultimately, where I think I'm going." From the streets of the town where he was raised, to the sidewalks of cities a hundred times the size, we all have dreams; and these are the stories of growing up, looking back and passing on those dreams, told as only Hoge can. Nostalgia, in his hands, is truly magic.

After producing several albums on his own, including 2013's Never Give In, Hoge partnered with Marshall Altman (Frankie Ballard, Eric Paslay, Matt Nathanson) on Small Town Dreams, after the idea to work together popped into his head during one of those late-night drives. Ballard's "Helluva Life" came on the radio followed by Paslay's "Friday Night," and he was taken by how true to the artist the production rang. "Neither of those sound like records I would make, but they both sound so uniquely them," Hoge says. "So I called up Marshall, at 2 a.m. – he was up in the studio that late. We started the process right after that. He's part cheerleader, part conductor, part coach, part fan, all at the same time."

The result is a collection of songs that paint a vivid snapshot of the American experience – the struggles to overcome the confines of youth; the perfect cycle of parents watching their children make the same beautiful mistakes they once did; the feeling when we realize our roots run deeper than we've ever known. The partnership with Altman (as well as a guest appearance from Vince Gill on guitar) bred a sound that's both crisp and raw, letting the lyrics and unforgettable melodies shine while never casting too much of a gloss on Hoge's signature raspy bellow.

An extremely prolific songwriter with ten albums under his belt and countless songs written for others (including a Grammy nomination for Eli Young Band's number-one hit, "Even If Breaks Your Heart," co-written with Paslay), Hoge saw this next phase of his journey as an opportunity to explore even deeper into both his country and rock & roll roots. Never fitting particularly neatly into a genre box, he's always just made the music that moved him – but it's safe to say that he feels more kinship with the country community than ever, particularly as a storyteller.

"That's my favorite thing about the genre itself," he says. "That's what I love most. Country music is the only genre left telling anybody's stories anymore."

Those stories are part of what has made Hoge a vital force in fan's lives who have followed him across the country and seen countless shows – his songs speak to the reality of all our experiences, delivered in a way that is honest, true and ever changing. There's no musical formula here or predictability to seeing Hoge live – whether opening for the likes of Eli Young Band or Dierks Bentley, or playing his own sold-out dates, he can stir up somber, acoustic moments in one turn and then spring a hard-rocking, plugged-in number the next. "The magic happens in the unsafe moments," he says.

There's safety, however, in Hoge's words, as he documents the mystery inour future and the security of our past. It's human experience he studies, and connecting with the listener is part of what makes it all worthwhile for Hoge.

"I tell these stories about me, or a friend, or an experience," he explains, "and to have someone come up to me and say, 'that's exactly how I felt,' or 'your songs helped me through a tough time,' that's the ultimate compliment."

Take "Middle of America," which opens with a simple, sweet guitar strum and ushers into a full-fledged rock-country anthem with a rollicking heartbeat –it's about the moments, both perfect and flawed, that unite us all. Or "Guitar or a Gun," that tells the story of a young boy, a few dollars in hand, facing a pivotal decision at the local pawnshop: should he buy a guitar, or a gun? "One can feed your family, and one will end you up in jail. He seemed to know which one was which but me, I couldn't tell," Hoge sings in impossibly vivid storytelling that's one part Bruce Springsteen, one part Bob Dylan, one part Hank Williams. And then there's the closer, "Till I Do It Again," that's as much The Clash as a country romp, showcasing the best of the special hybrid that Hoge hits with every lick.

The title of the album, Small Town Dreams, was inspired by a photo that Hoge found while visiting his mother back in Franklin – a picture of him as a child, riding bikes with a group of neighborhood kids in the field behind his house. "We're the most non-threating small-town gang ever," he laughs. "It's this real innocent photo, and everybody's smiling and happy. I started thinking about all the people I had lost contact with, and how, at that age, everybody in That photo truly believed they could do anything they wanted to, and that those sort of small town dreams are possible."

But when those photos and yearbooks of our youth have been lost in the piles, and the yellowed pages of newsprint has disintegrated into dust, we'll still have our stories: and Hoge turns those stories into song, into melodies that last far longer than any etched or snapped record. Will Hoge, the man, is many things. A husband, a father, a survivor, a devoted small-town son who credits much of his love of music to his rock 'n' roll loving dad. Will Hoge, the artist, belongs to us all – a storyteller first and foremost, charting and living our Small Town Dreams.

The Band Of Heathens

We were on the road somewhere in New England in early 2017, when the topic of conversation drifted toward the troubled social climate in the country. We all shared a sadness that bordered on despair at the relentless stream of unsettling news of corruption, social injustice, and an overall lack of moral decency. We related similar experiences with how divisiveness was affecting those around us, how families were being torn apart over political and social issues. Eventually the weight of it all left us feeling quite solemn and the conversation trailed off — we returned to our thoughts and personal reflection as we rolled up the interstate. After a long period of silence, we felt like we needed to lighten the mood, and nothing heals the soul quite like music…

Trevor went to an obscure and out-of-print Ray Charles album that he had ripped from vinyl to mp3 to listen to on the road, A Message From The People…how appropriate. Some of us were vaguely familiar with the context of this record — that it was released in the early 70’s (April ’72) during a time of great social upheaval in America. Nixon, Vietnam, race riots, protests in almost every major city…the country had fallen on some hard times. Just by glancing at the LP’s artwork it’s easy to deduce that Ray had a message in mind when he made this record. The cover is a painting of Ray in a reflective pose next to a group of children with different ethnicities. They all sit beneath a Mt. Rushmore-like image with the faces of Bobby Kennedy, Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK. With the first notes of the opening track “Lift Every Voice And Sing”, Ray had our undivided attention. Often referred to as the Black National Anthem, Ray’s genius is in full flight from the get-go, singing with incredible jubilation and hope, hitting us like a ton of bricks. It seemed like Ray had picked up where our conversation had trailed off just moments before…we were really LISTENING. The second track, “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong”, he sings with such a powerful sentiment of loneliness and helplessness — the plight of many in society who are forgotten or ignored. We remained silent, intently listening and reflecting on the meaning of every word he sang. Halfway through the record a couple of us were in tears. The messages in each song that Ray had carefully selected back in 1972 rang as true today as they did during the turbulent times they were initially released. In these moments, Ray’s voice became the voice of an elder — a true master was speaking to us from the past. There is sorrow, protest, and anger but also resolve, hope, and deliverance. On the final track of the record, Ray saved for us his most powerful message and the perfect coda; the definitive version of “America The Beautiful” is absolutely glorious. It is quite simply the apotheosis of soul. “America! God done shed his grace on thee! He crowned thy good, he told me he would, with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!”

Just like that, the masterpiece that is A Message From The People came to an end. Breaking the ensuing silence, Gordy turned around and said, “What if we covered this album? People really need to hear these songs again.” The idea was hatched right then and there.

Fast forward almost a year later. In December 2017 we were working as a backing band on a variety of projects for other artists being produced by Gordy. The sessions took place at the Finishing School, a studio built by close friend, producer, and musical collaborator, George Reiff, who tragically succumbed cancer in May ’17 after a 10-month fight. The studio had been dark since George’s passing. With the blessing of the Reiff family, the lights were turned back on and we went to work for a few weeks. The final four days of session time were blocked off for us to work on something of our own. A few weeks prior to the sessions it was collectively decided that we would use that time to take a shot at recording some of A Message From The People. Working alongside our close friend (and George’s right-hand-man in the studio) Steve Christensen, there was a palpable vibration in the air. It was somber but also very peaceful. Our expectations were tempered, as we knew that doing any Ray Charles record justice was going to be a real challenge — let alone one with such lush arrangements. On top of that, we were working in a new bass player, Jesse Wilson. These sessions would be the first time we had worked with him in a studio environment (which can be a crucible for some). In spite of all that, the collective mentality, while unspoken, seemed to be “let’s give this a shot, this could be cool, there’s no pressure here.” To our amazement, after four days, we had finished the record. In between takes we frequently reminisced about George and were even visited at the studio by some of George’s close friends and family. Feeling confident that what we had accomplished was going to be worthy of a release, we unanimously agreed that it would be dedicated to the memory of George and that proceeds would go to a charitable organization that focused on social justice.

Going forward, our hope is that our performance of these songs has sufficient merit to carry the listener to the musical feeling that we strived to infuse in these recordings — a spirit of brotherhood, hope and understanding, liberty, and justice for all.

$17 Advance / $20 Day of Show / $29 Seated


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