Derek Hoke – Goodbye Rock ‘n’ Roll (Electric Western, 2009)
Georgia-born Derek Hoke opens his debut with the album’s bold title declaration: Goodbye Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s an immensely catchy song whose pedal steel and thumping honky-tonk beat underline the bittersweet lament of a man who must bid adieu to his first love. Hoke declares his never-ending affection for rock ‘n’ roll even as he falls further into the embrace of country music. He’s confused and heartsick, but like the fatalism of film noir, he can’t fight the impulse to turn down the amps and turn up the twang. He walks away from the big guitars and screaming audiences with sweet sorrow in his heart.
Hoke styles himself a country artist, but there are rich threads of pop, folk and blues to be found in his music. The vibraphone chime of “Hot on the Heels of Love” lay behind a melody that’s equal parts Buddy Holly and early Beatles, and the whistled solo adds to a satisfied, easy-going early-60s mood. Hoke is a pop omnivore who smoothly combines Lyle Lovett’s ambling swing, Marshall Crenshaw’s earnest pop, Dr. John’s rolling funk and Hank Williams’ twang. Mike Daly’s steel nods to Williams’ legendary sideman Don Helms, and Chris Donohue’s double bass add supper-club bottom end to several songs.
At first these seem to be songs of romantic distress, but Hoke’s an optimist who dispels dark clouds with a never-ending view towards the sunny side. The frazzled morning-after of “Rain Rain Rain,” delayed infatuation of “I Think I Really Love You” and unrequited longing of “Still Waiting” are voiced as hope and opportunity rather than defeat, and even the straying lover of “Not Too Late” is given one more chance. Hoke sings of small pleasures (“The Finer Things”) and traipses through a litany of Southern terms of affection (“Sweat Pea,” with Jen Duke singing Loretta Lynn to Hoke’s George Jones) as his songs swing through buoyant rockabilly, acoustic blues and twangy country.
Hoke has steeped in the music of his youth, but also that of his parents’ and grandparents’. His period influences are worn cleverly in guitar strums, bass thumps, vocal harmonies and steel bends, interweaving periods and styles rather than blocking out pieces from whole cloth. His farewell to rock ‘n’ roll takes him back to a time when American music’s roots were still tangled in the same plot of mountain soil. This is a charming record that plays like a vintage radio station hopping from one thing you love to another, alighting long enough to set your toe tapping.
This album was released for digital download in 2009 and is being reissued on CD in time for SXSW 2010.
Here’s the video for “Where’d You Sleep Last Night?”