Will Hoge is a mainstay of 21st century rock & roll, carrying the torch for a blue-collar sound rooted in ringing Telecaster guitars and anthemic songwriting. He makes music for roadhouses and rallies, for car stereos and dive-bar jukeboxes, for Saturday night hell-raising and Sunday morning comedowns. In an era of social media influencers looking to fast-track their way to fame, Hoge has proudly taken the long way around, dedicating himself not to the destination, but to the journey itself.
The trek continues with Wings On My Shoes, the twelfth studio album in a career whose milestones include Number One hits, Grammy nods, major-label record deals, and hard-won independence. Written amidst the doom and gloom of a pandemic that brought his touring schedule to a standstill, it's a record that seeks out silver linings, emphasizing bright moments over looming darkness. For Hoge, Wings On My Shoes also marks a recommitment to the amplified Americana sound that's earned him a global audience, as well nods from Rolling Stone, Forbes, and NPR.
"I always want to embrace change — to accept new things artistically— but at the end of the day, I can try to run from this idea that I love good, guitar-based rock & roll music, or I can wear that badge of honor," he says. "I'm in the 'wearing the badge of honor' phase now."
He wears it proudly with songs like "All I Can Take," a fast 'n' furious blast of bar-band bombast that he recorded in a single take. "Dead Man's Hand" slows the tempo but deepens the groove, with Hoge delivering a Springsteen-sized story of desperation and dirty business dealings. "John Prine's Cadillac" celebrates life and love with power chords, cymbal crashes, and a nod to Hoge's songwriting hero, while "It's Just You" remakes the jubilant jangle of Buddy Holly's best work into a heartland-rock love song.
Recorded during a week's worth of live performances at Nashville's Sound Emporium Studios, Wings On My Shoes spotlights the chemistry shared by Hoge and his group of hard-touring road warriors: guitarist Thom Donovan, drummer Allen Jones, and bassist Christopher Griffiths. Hoge pulls triple-duty as the album's writer, frontman, and producer, while guest multi-instrumentalist Joshua Grange adds touches of pedal steel and organ throughout. Featuring few overdubs and zero studio trickery, Wings On My Shoes stands tall as a document of a hardscrabble band at work, wearing its rough edges with pride, sweating and stomping its way toward rock & roll redemption.
"There are common things we all love — the Beatles, the Stones, the Mount Rushmore of rock music — but everyone brings their own influences to the table," Hoge says of Wings' lineup, whose members previously joined him on Tiny Little Movies and My American Dream. "Allen comes from a punk-rock background. Christopher is a Detroit native with Motown influences. Thom loves Johhny Marr and does great things with guitar effects. As we're arranging the songs, I'm encouraging these guys to push a little bit and help steer. I don't want to make a record where I play everything, because that defeats the whole purpose of ensemble playing. I'm trying to incorporate everyone else's gifts into what we're doing."
At its core, though, Wings On My Shoes remains a songwriter's record. Hoge began writing these 10 songs months into the Covid pandemic, his world rattled by the isolation that came with the world's shelter-in-place recommendation. "I was a mess," he remembers. "I didn't realize how much this touring lifestyle had afforded me a certain level of built-in vulnerability and connection with people. Normally, you get into a van with a group of musicians, and you naturally hang out during the weeks that follow, and there's a communal aspect. There's a feeling of being connected. I'd gotten used to that, and without it, I went through something of a nervous breakdown. I needed to recenter myself."
Hoge revamped his schedule, making time for daily blocks of journaling, exercise, and songwriting. He meditated. He practiced yoga. He read and wrote. "It was regimented and unsexy," he admits, "but it helped. There was a real focus on songwriting once again. Over the course of eight to nine months, that's where the music came from, and I got really excited about this new batch of songs."
Those daily songwriting sessions yielded more than full-throttle rockers. On the acoustic "Whose God Is This," Hoge explores the middle ground between classic country textures and irreverent Bible School takeaways. "Queenie" finds him strumming a gentle salute to the strong, determined women in his life, while the stunning "The Last One To Go" — a career highlight, laced with gorgeous strings and interwoven acoustic guitars — tackles hard realities about marriage and mortality. Wings On My Shoes makes room for all of it, highlighting the diverse perspectives of a craftsman whose songs turn southern storytelling into universal sentiment.
Years before Americana music received its own category at the Grammy Awards, Will Hoge was on the frontlines, helping to pilot and popularize the genre's blend of American roots music. With Wings On My Shoes, he distills that sound down to its strongest ingredients, steering himself from roadhouse rock & roll to southern soul, from guitar-driven grease 'n' grit to Tennessee twang, from amplified barn-burners to acoustic numbers. For Will Hoge, that's how you take flight, and Wings On My Shoes finds him flying high.