Year of the Album — #056
Will Hoge – “Number Seven” (2011, Rykodisc)
Shakespeare was a traitor
As far as I’m concerned
He wrote a bunch of stories
About stuff he never learned
He never loved a woman
Least not one as mean as you
Or Romeo would have just split town
And tried to find somebody new
With those words from “Fool’s Gonna Fly,” Will Hoge jumpstarts his seventh album, aptly titled Number Seven, with typical brutal honesty, and the bitter tone of this opening track sums up the album’s lyrical groundwork perfectly. This is an album about dreaming big, coming up short and trying to come to terms with where one stands in a world where everything has to fall sometime.
“The darkest shadows I’ve ever found were somewhere along these streets of gold,” Hoge sings on “Goddamn California,” bemoaning a world where “dreams are bought and sold.” “American Dream” slows it down even further and takes on a taste of Shawn Mullins meets James McMurtry as he updates McMurtry’s “You Can’t Make It Here Anymore” — “This is my American dream, and I’ve been all that I can be. With nothing left to lose at all I guess I’m free,” he sings, and the plight of the modern American seems to weigh heavy upon his sagging shoulders.
Few glimmers of hope get through the gloom, and Number Seven is a hard album to listen to straight through. Yet it’s a thematically dark album perfectly suited for an American landscape blighted by economic uncertainty, and it’s Hoge’s most spiritually honest album to date. These character sketches profile everyday Americans just trying to find a way through the fog to what glory waits on the other side. And for that, Number Seven is a can’t miss album.
The venerable online music magazine Perfect Sound Forever ran an amazing piece this month called “Steve Earle: Sympathy For An American Terrorist,” which is an excerpt from Dorian Lynskey’s recent book “33 Revolutions Per Minute – A History of Protest Songs,” which has immediately risen to the top of my “have to read this RIGHT NOW” list. The excerpt profiles that dark period after the September 11th attacks which REM had referred to as “the Great Quiet,” when Clear Channel was creating lists of “lyrically questionable songs,” and the idea of being an American and writing any kind of controversial or “protesting” song seemed positively unpatriotic.
I published an essay of my own along these same lines, which is available to read at “No Depression,” the Roots Music webzine.
Reading the Lynskey excerpt reminded me of a time in my musical exploration where I truly took that adage to heart. It’s not our job to be loved, it’s our job to be remembered. Since then I’ve appreciated artists who speak their mind regardless of the potential cost to their fan-bases. I respect musicians who are willing to say something because it needs to be said, not because it’s going to be a popular, money-making proposition.
I am nervous as we near the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Though it’s a different climate now, where the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been dragging on for far too long and the American people are tiring of constant bloodshed and endless turmoil, it’s easy to fall back on the memories and take the wrong lessons from them. I’d like to remember that, in a time when people were told it was unpatriotic to have opinions which differed from the status quo, there were people like Steve Earle and James McMurtry who were willing to pick up the slack for all of us.
You can view a video of Steve Earle performing “John Walker’s Blues” below.
If you get to go to Austin and check out James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards play a midnight set at The Continental Club on Wednesday nights, you may get to see this legend, Jon Dee Graham, opening for him. (I haven’t had the chance, being that I’m blind as a bat, don’t drive none, and had the misfortune of not landing in a music city like Austin post-College, but there’s always the bucket list.)
As for this song, “Not Beautifully Broken,” which is included live here with “Giliad” as well, I think Graham sums the tone up just fine:
“This song is purely fiction, let’s get that out of the way right now. Fictional character has a fictional … let’s call it a breakdown … has to go away to a fictional “institution,” for a fictionally-mandated 110 days, with a fictional happy ending.”
Doesn’t that sound like a fun piece of “fiction”? I’m starting to sense a theme building in today’s posts
Following the trail from Railroad Earth, I wandered through the YouTube highways and stumbled on this great live version of “Peter Pan,” recorded as part of the Music Fog showcase at Threadgill’s WHQ in Austin, Texas, Filmed during SXSW 2010. This video links to an awesome McMurtry list which should keep you entertained if you dare sit and listen to the whole thing, courtesy of Kink Radio.
The song is one of his best straightforward character sketches — Lyrics below as usual!
~ ~ ~
Beer cans to the ceiling
ashtray on the floor
laundry on the sofa
need I say more
I walked out with my hair wet
I caught one awful cold
should have been more careful
should have done like I was told
I can’t believe it
how could it be
just like you said could happen
so it did to me
Just when I might have seen the light of day
I crossed my eyes ’til they stayed that way
I keep my distance
as best I can
living out my time here in Never Never land
I can’t grow up
’cause I’m too old now
I guess I really did it this time mom
The boogie man came calling
I said I wasn’t home
he didn’t believe me
he wasn’t alone
he had my number
he got my goat
he bought my ticket
he paid off my note
and he left in a hurry
said he couldn’t stay
I guess he had his reasons
I’m not the one to say
Lets go chase tornadoes
just me and you
you don’t often catch ‘em
but man when you do
just take my catch rope
and crawl out on the wing
we won’t come down ’till we own that thing
then we’ll sit out on the front porch
quiet as a mouse
one last time before they close on the house