Not five minutes into the new Will Hoge album and he’s nodding to Black Sabbath.
“First rat off a dead ship / see you sinking like a stone,” the Americana rocker snarls over tense palm-muted chords on punk-metal rager “The Overthrow.” “TV preacher with a fat lip / crying in the pulpit all alone.” By and by the tension breaks, the song launches into a headbanging sprint, and an insistent Tony Iommi-style electric guitar riff cascades like whitewater.
“The Overthrow” is one endpoint of the continuum comprising Tiny Little Movies, the follow-up to 2018’s fiercely progressive My American Dream. Elsewhere on the spectrum, we have R&B-tinted Americana (“Is this All that You Wanted me For?”), heartland story song (“Midway Motel”), and saccharine Nashville balladry (“All the Pretty Horses”). Rock and roll may be Hoge’s native tongue, and he gives himself to that form’s release and untethered id with unmistakable abandon, yet he’s consistent and fluent in a respectable range of sonic languages.
Indeed, he speaks many on Tiny Little Movies.
“You can’t burn bright in a town this dark,” Hoge sings on the particularly Springsteenian “Even the River Runs Out of this Town,” rust and resignation and sincerity in his voice. “You can’t hitch your wishes to a one-horse star.” Its sparse instrumentation and gorgeous yet lonesome washes of ambient organ chords nod to The Boss’s Tom Joad era, though the straightforward poetry of small-town isolation exemplified by the song’s hook and title is Hoge’s own.
Tiny Little Movies skews toward punk-rock on “Con Man Blues” and folk-rock psychedelia on “Maybe this is Ok,” while “That’s how You Lose Her” evokes the late Tom Petty. “I’ve seen the lights of New York City / I’ve seen the wildflowers bloom,” Hoge sings on the blissful, weightlessly enamored “Likes of You.” “I’ve seen a man go next to crazy / but baby, I ain’t never seen the likes of you.”
Maybe Tiny Little Movies is a rock record. Maybe it’s an Americana record. And maybe — okay, this is more likely — each tune is its own self-contained unit. Unlike its conceptually unified predecessor, this record is comprised of 11 distinct nuggets, each immersive in its own fashion. “My Worst,” for instance, is a repentant soul-blues number with a stirring, choir-backed chorus, dramatic organ swells, and call-and-response guitar solos in its soaring bridge. On a dedicated blues record, “My Worst” would be a highlight, no doubt. On Tiny Little Movies, though, there are as many highlights as there are styles explored — and there are a lot of styles explored here.