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CD REVIEW: Hank Woji - American Dreams
By Chip Withrow - 03/03/2009 - 07:52 PM EST

Artist: Hank Woji
Album: American Dreams
Label: KZ Records
Genre: Americana, Folk, Acoustic
Sounds Like: Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, John Prine
Production/Musicianship Grade: 9/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 8/10
Performance Skill: 9/10
CD Review: Texas-based songwriter Hank Woji handles protest and social observation in the style of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and John Prine. Big shoes to fill indeed, but on American Dreams, Woji tackles big issues with the direct, thoroughly American sound created by those men.

The anthemic “Have You Thought About It?” one of three cover songs, jumps off the disc with bluegrass bravado. “Every Dog Has Its Day” boasts a great chorus and Jack Saunders’ mournful dobro. Woji’s bluesy vocal and driving rhythm guitar propel the rocking “Baby I’m a Superstar,” punctuated with blasts of Gary Sapone’s harmonica.

Then come two of the most powerful tunes on the set: “Because We Spent Our Money On a War” and “Livin’ on the Edge.” Listening to what the U.S. could have financed if not for its aggression made me angry, even though Woji’s solo acoustic treatment is beautiful. Woji then crafts memorable characters in the poignant “Edge.”

Another cover, “Wounded, Homeless, Stranded, God Bless” is a snaky midtempo blues shuffle, and Woji’s rich vocal turn is right on. It’s followed by the beautiful, stark, chamber music-like “Yuletide Blues.”

Woji can hit right between the eyes, too – “Pigs At the Trough” is a rave-up, with Woji practically shouting his damnation of greedheads and narrow-minded power trippers. “Love Is Real” is just about as powerful, even though it is just Woji’s voice set to ringing 12-string strumming. “Patriot Games” is reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” – it has the lyrical anger and the purposeful acoustic chords. Kristen Jensen’s violin soars throughout the song.

The intensely personal “Saving Grace” is a nice departure from the commentary of most of the album. It’s performed simply, like something Johnny Cash might have done late in his career.

The grand finale is the hopeful call to stand up for ourselves, “Strike the Match.” Soloists take turns and the chorus builds to a singalong – I can picture the band on stage, exhorting the crowd.

Great folk music fueled by righteous indignation, even anger, is a time-honored tradition. With American Dreams, Hank Woji shows he is a worthy voice in that cause.

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