Album Review: Hugo Old Tyme Religion

Roc Nation signee Hugo unleashed his debut album, Old Tyme Religion, on the world last week and it’s a must-hear. Inspired by old-time rock n’ roll, the singer blends roots music with some serious street swagger to create a collection of well-crafted tunes and a distinct sound that seems unlikely to come out of the Jay-Z backed label.

We were first introduced to Hugo by way of his lead single “99 Problems,” a song made popular by none other than Roc Nation CEO Jay-Z. Though, Hugo’s rendition shouldn’t necessarily be considered a cover of Hov’s monster hit as the singer completely restyles the song with a bluegrass makeover. The resulting product is a bluesy, banjo-laced stomper that delights — especially as the song’s well-known hook kicks in reminding you of its hip-hop origins.

While I can appreciate a good pop song reworked into a bluegrass-inspired gem it should be said that “99 Problems” is atypical of what follows on Old Tyme Religion. The album is more of an unconventional, yet accessible, pop album as Hugo draws from various influences ranging from The White Stripes to MGMT to Jeff Buckley to Howling Wolf and beyond.

On “Hopelessly Stoned” Hugo takes a page out of Jack White’s book (perhaps on an acid trip) with the song’s dirty backbeat, psychedelic keyboard, and incessant groove. Meanwhile the ballad-esque “Sweetest Cure” paints Hugo with regret as its dark percussion and a dramatic string section builds steadily before giving way to the singer’s remorseful reflection whispered over stark guitar strums.

Hugo proves he was conscious of finishing strong for his debut by closing Old Tyme Religion with two of the album’s best songs in “Just a Shred” and “Wake Alone” respectively. “Just a Shred” gives listeners a dose of that Americana charm he experimented with on “99 Problems” by pairing a plucky guitar riff and toe-tapping drum section for a song about heartbreak. Meanwhile “Wake Alone” has more of that melancholic pop/urban feel in the vein of OneRepublic’s “Apologize” with its blend of melodic piano, drum machine beat, and acoustic guitar.

Hugo’s future is looking bright with the release of Old Tyme Religion as the talented song-writer proves he can create contemporary music inspired by classic influences without compromise. You can purchase Old Tyme Religion now via iTunes.

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