In stating that he’s “trying to make rock & roll in the age of hip-hop,” British-born, Thailand-raised, NYC-based gangsta rocker HUGO could be interpreted as insinuating that rock is dead. Instead, it’s likely a statement in regard to the state of pop music or the Top 40 realm of popular culture. While hip-hop crossovers dominate the pop landscape, one is often hard-pressed to find much rock represented in the mainstream these days – unless you’re looking for it. On his debut album OLD TYME RELIGION, HUGO finds himself as the first rock artist signed to ROC NATION, the label headed by the almighty JAY-Z. Released this week, the album is not only one of the best releases of 2011 thus far, but an album that may too, find itself struggling to find the right audience.
Despite being raised in Thailand, it’s the British and American music that seems to fuel the vibe. With firm ties to American Roots Music and Blues, OLD TYME RELIGION brings those classic elements to the surface of a pop-rock concoction that manages to seamlessly blend those ingredients and more into a 40-minute set of seriously smooth listening.
There’s a a lot of Jack White-swagger in HUGO’s voice, and that works best when those blues riffs are creating an organic groove on tracks like Bread & Butter. Rock N Roll Delight has a hook that could’ve been borrowed from the Coldplay songbook, while Born recalls a lot of the Britpop movement. While the wholly original tracks are all enjoyable, the culmination of influences comes together best on HUGO’s version of 99 Problems, the legendary track by Mr. Beyonce.