When I was asked to review JT Hodges’ self-titled debut album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d heard his name, and I’d heard some positive reviews, but I couldn’t name a single song of his.
Now I know what to expect. And it’s a lot of good things.
The first notes of the lead song, “Rather Be Wrong Than Lonely”, are a quick drum beat and strong guitar chords that set the pace for my growing enthusiasm. I was into the song before he even began singing. Rarely does an album capture me so quickly, but by the time Hodges made it to the first chorus, I was trying to sing along to his full, sonorous voice.
The singer takes on small-town secrets in “Sleepy Little Town”. Although I’m usually not impressed by rehashes of old concepts, I really was with this one. Hodges actually puts a unique spin, both melodically and lyrically, on this old idea as he sings about how the “lights come on”, exposing three big secrets.
Around a minute into the third song, I realized I’d heard it before. With a line as memorable as “Look you up? Hell, I’m going to hunt you down”, I’m surprised I forgot at all. “Hunt You Down” was released to radio last year, but hasn’t seen nearly the airtime I think this fun cantina ditty deserves.
Three songs in, I began wondering how I didn’t know who JT Hodges was. Three songs, three hits? This guy is for real. Where have I been?
And it didn’t slow down from there. “Give It One More Night” starts to show shades of a comparison KICB’s Lydia made – he reminds her of a lighter Gary Allan. Hodges modulates his voice really well toward the end of this number, showing an easy versatility that many singers never achieve, let alone so early.
The album takes a turn with “When I Stop Crying”, a slow, sombre piano-backed ballad. The “Gary Allan-lite” moniker fits here, too, and although this isn’t my type of song, Hodges does it justice as well as any established singer I can think of. And Vince Gill (yes, that Vince Gill) guest stars.
Hodges’ next song, “Goodbyes Made You Mine”, really struck a chord with me. He contrasts himself with her first love, first kiss, that guy who crossed her off his list, all those red taillights that left her behind. “I’m not that man!/Girl, after all you’ve been through/ I knew it’d be a matter of time/ till all those goodbyes made you mine.” With the lyrics running through my head, I can’t even review it. Luckily, it’s been released to radio, so you can review it yourself. What a great song.
“Leaving Me Later” is a lot like all those songs about girls you know you can’t tie down, but try anyway. Tim McGraw’s “For a Little While” comes to mind. Although this isn’t quite at that calibre, I don’t get an urge to skip over it.
There are moments in “Right About Now” where you think Hodges is going to do something unique and interesting, but then the moment passes. It’s a good song, about the singer knowing exactly what his ex would be doing “right about now”, but I find myself disappointed that the song doesn’t push any boundaries. Instead, it fits exactly within the little lyrical and melodic box you’d expect for the subject – something Hodges has, to his credit, avoided up to this point.
But the singer-songwriter comes back with “Rhythm Of The Radio”, which steps at least to the edge of that box again. That’s mostly thanks to the instrumentals, which, happily, vary nearly song-to-song on this album.
The album closes with “Green Eyes Red Sunglasses”. This southern rock-infused number has yet another distinctive sound, and though it won’t be for every fan of pure country, I’ve always enjoyed a good genre crossover.
JT Hodges does two things really, really well. His full-bodied voice gives personality and a personal touch to nearly every song. And each song has a distinctive flavour, which both his voice and the instruments help provide.
The best songs are probably still the first three, “Rather Be Wrong Than Lonely”, “Sleepy Little Town”, and “Hunt You Down”, as well as “Goodbyes Made You Mine”.
JT Hodges is going to be a star. More than any new artist I’ve heard, he makes interesting, varied, full-blooded music. In the biggest show of respect I can make, I’ll be buying this album myself.
“JT Hodges” comes out August 21, 2012.