Twice-nominated Western Canadian Music Awards artist JP Hoe is the ultimate singer-songwriter. The Winnipeg native is earnest, wry, ironic, funny and insightful. His material has a genuine homespun feel, filled with catchy hooks and melodies – genuine, uncontrived and confessional.
Hoe’s songs have vision and substance, and are a welcome change in this age of disposable everything. Hoe’s casual style is the perfect foil to his warm and welcoming voice. His approach has been described as a combination of torch song and tongue-in-cheek humor, but this is something of a disservice to an artist who uses genuine insight, emotion, smart lyrics and strong melodies to craft such heartfelt and fun music. Hoe is also most definitely a DIY kind of guy, having sold zillions of copies of his previous two critically acclaimed records: The Here in Review EP and The Live Beta Project, without the help of a record label, but rather through talent, relentless touring and continual hard work.
Yet it’s Hoe’s relaxed, familiar approach to music that fills his new release with life. The song arrangements on Mannequin are smartly built from the seed of his voice and guitar, and the subject matter revolves mostly around love and heartbreak… themes at once personal and common to all of us. But that’s definitely one of Hoe’s touchstones and strengths as a writer and storyteller: his ability to weave songs from an everyman’s point of view. Hoe’s extremely popular and perennially sold-out Christmas show in Winnipeg, called somewhat cheekily The JP Hoe Hoe Hoe Holiday Show, is a perfect illustration of how important he holds the ideas of connection, roots and community. And it’s his sense of connection to our shared humanity and foibles that has made Hoe a substantial musical success in his native province. JP Hoe could easily be called a troubadour, a man almost displaced out of time, using the honesty and simplicity of his guitar and voice to travel the world and slowly build a devoted and deserved audience.
Dark and at times tinged with melancholy, Mannequin has powerful moments, given an even greater strength by Hoe’s honest,forthright and focused approach. It’s a solid collection of pop-folk-influenced material, with a distinct, flavorful touch. What makes the album particularly impressive is Hoe’s willingness to experiment with traditional pop arrangements and instrumentation. This is a skillful record, peppered with memorable hooks and lyrics. Hoe is obviously quite comfortable plumbing and experimenting with the different aspects and perspectives of traditional radio-friendly pop music, and this approach works extremely well on Mannequin.
There’s a tendency that some music reviewers have to compare the artist being reviewed to other artists that readers may be more familiar with. While I understand the efficiency and directness of this tactic, for Hoe, that type of pigeonholing doesn’t really work and it doesn’t do Mannequin justice. This record is a great example of the fact that Hoe can write a memorable, profound, downright charming piece of music, period. Case in point: I can honestly say that after hearing Nothing’s Gonna Harm You only once, the damn thing stuck in my head like a big, fat wad of sugary-sweet bubblegum in a fifth grader’s hair. This tune is propulsive, simultaneously sweet and foreboding, and almost impossible to forget. Hoe sings: So take back what you said, and we’ll start anew like the morning’s end… a rather nice sentiment until it’s followed up by the lyrics I want your eyes looking at me, that’s why I keep you under my thumb, turning the track on a dime from sweet pop song to a statement on the hazards and dangers of obsession and control in a relationship. And it’s in these shades and perspectives that Hoe is most successful on Mannequin.
The record’s opener (Bingo Palace) is another high point and a great pick to get the whole magilla rolling. Subtle, soulful and emotive, Hoe’s mournful, heartfelt vocals, framed by lush, orchestral string arrangements, and his colorful, succinct, observational lyrics nestled warmly in between, create a truly beautiful song. The main line of the chorus wryly illustrates what we must all certainly feel at times: This world is tumbling around like balls in a bingo palace. He’s not wrong. And the haunting, determined, straightforward chorus of Learn to Let You Go, with its jangly guitars and sing-along backup vocals, will definitely tug at your heartstrings, but it will also make you smile: Oh, how did I learn to let you go. It’s the kind of song and lyric that inspires thought and consideration, simple and profound, the best kind of insight and wisdom.
JP Hoe will be at the Black Sheep Inn with Hannah Georgas and Mo Kenney on Thursday February 7, 2013. For tickets and times, visit tickets.theblacksheepinn.com
For more info on JP Hoe, check out: www.jphoe.com