John Paul Hodge’s outlaw country has an uncanny soul and a genuine feel. With a raspy, low voice and spitfire lyrics, it feels as if you’re listening to a lost king of country music. Born and raised in Northern California, Hodge says he doesn’t feel like a Western artist. As a self-taught musician, he’s followed his heart through many genres in search of what satisfies him the most. From rap to metal to reggae, screaming and smoking has brought out this version of Hodge.
“As you get older, things that were there for you at the youngest age remain with you, whether you try or not,” he says of his musical evolution. “I don’t have enough street cred to be called an outlaw. What I sing is soul over whatever best suits the song.”
He is no fan of popular music. Yet the musical devices employed in arrangements and melodies of pop hits that are used to engage the listener are what he’s looking for. “I’ve got a taste for the hook,” he says. “I’ve recognized what’s entertaining and tried to use that in my music.”
A heavy dose of blood, sweat and tears went into the making of his latest recording, Outlaw Bits, released in 2019 and produced over a span of eight years. He and his band channeled the vibes of Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, and it finally came together. The result is a collection of barroom romance, political belligerence and soulful heartache, sprinkled with a small dose of activism.
“Playing originals to a lot of drunk people over the years you learn they don’t want to be politicized,” Hodge says of audiences. He’s bridged that gap with this record. In the track “Salmon Song,” he gives his views, while still being accessible and entertaining. He started writing after a cousin’s tribe had to cancel a salmon run at a local river, and finished years later after visiting the protest at Standing Rock. “My goal is to provide some sort of music to signify my views on activism, from the Native American perspective,” the part-Cherokee songwriter explains.
He plans to release a string of singles this year. One includes an old tune dubbed “Monterey,” a story about following a lost love and coming back home to try to make it work. “I was heartbroken and driving big rigs at the time. My co-driver didn’t have me back after I audibly sobbed for a week,” he says.
This is brazen original music that pairs well with a heavy red and an attentive ear.
JOHN PAUL HODGE 5pm Saturday, Jan. 25. Folktale Winery, 8940 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel. No cover. 293-7500, folktalewinery.com