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Record Review 

Nashville songwriter Will Hoge developed a reputation based on his D-I-Y demo All Night Long -- a 10 track CD recorded live at Music City's Exit/In. And although his hometown is better known for its country legends, Hoge, a straight-ahead rocker, has done quite well for himself behind grassroots touring and word of mouth. That he snagged former Georgia Satellite guitarist Dan Baird for the CD is no small feat either. But it's the just-released Carousel, his studio debut, that puts Hoge at the top of a short list of today's most promising artists.

Carousel captures Hoge's essence -- the unbridled energy and intensity of performance -- and tempers it without tying it down. He combines thoughtful, witty lyrics with hard-hitting, guitar-driven rock to create a sound that may not be unique in its approach, but is nonetheless a refreshing addition to the genre. Whether it's the sexual bravado of "She Don't Care About Me" or the two-minute power-pop of "Let Me Be Lonely," Hoge's formula remains steadfast: verse, catchy chorus, verse.

It's a formula that can have disastrous effects, but here it's handled perfectly. The bouncy, upbeat "Ms. Williams," the CD's first single, could easily find a place being embraced of radio in several different formats. His reedy, nasal twang takes melodic turns on "Your Fool" and "Wish," while "Heartbreak Avenue" and the CD-closing title cut are sweet, mellow ballads. And with the cocky "Rock and Roll Star" and the bass-heavy "Sweet Magdeline" Hoge also struts rock 'n' roll swagger.

Baird, 20 years older than his three bandmates, adds solid guitar interplay throughout the recording; unfortunately, he's since left the band to spend more time with family (Brian Layson, formerly of Macon's Old Star, has replaced him). The rhythm section, however -- a one-two punch of bassist Tres Sasser and drummer Kirk Yoquelet -- remains intact and provides a strong backbone from beginning to end. -- BILL CLIFFORD

Will Hoge plays the Variety Playhouse, Sat., Feb 17.

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