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{Review} Wade Bowen: Live at Billy Bob’s

reprinted from MusicFest Magazine.

The past few years have seen Wade Bowen’s long climb to the top of the ladder in Texas Music matched by an increasingly intense and tight live show. Back in 2002, Bowen recorded his Live at the Blue Light album which would serve as a significant testament to his budding talent and stage energy.
That album paved the way for a growing fanbase and burgeoning career. Seven years later, Bowen took to the historic stage at Billy Bob’s to record a second live album.

This time backed by a seasoned band of incredible players, Bowen shines as a songwriter and performer who realizes his songbook takes folks on a journey each time they come to one of his gigs. The addition of Caleb Jones on bass and Ross Smith on keys over the past couple years has elevated Bowen’s band to previously unseen heights. Their studious musicianship, harmonies and showmanship have helped Bowen’s live show reach this new level. Meanwhile, the booming rhythms coaxed out by Brooks Robinson on drums combines with one of the best guitar players in the Texas/Red Dirt scene, Gary Wooten, to give the band a rocking look onstage and a rocking sound on this live album. The glue that holds it all together is longtime axeman Matt Miller.

Bowen’s songwriting is serious, sensitive and real…and so is his singing voice. That voice is distinctive and stands out on a live album that gives a snapshot of a band wielding its tremendous presence in front of a welcoming audience.

The album comes out of the chutes on fire with the guitar grooves of “You Had Me at My Best” and is followed by “One Step Closer”. “Closer” is a longtime crowd favorite that builds a vibe as the crowd sings just as passionately as Bowen does. By the time he reaches the chorus, thousands of Billy Bob’s attendees have gotten one step closer to something…an authentic musical moment.

“Red Headed Woman” is an old song that Bowen has never put on an album, but that fans have always clamored to have on a disc. The song gets a fantastic rendering here as the bombastic chorus is matched only by the mysterious visions of romance gone wrong the song plants in your head. “Not Finished Yet”, “God Bless This Town” and “Nobody’s Fool” take their place as rowdy bar anthems; but the band really shines when they tackle the emotional material found in “Turn On the Lights” and “Daddy and the Devil”.

Bowen tacks two clever studio tracks onto the end of the album, including latest single “Matches” which may be the catchiest release he’s ever sent to radio. Bowen and his stellar band have produced a terrific live album that manages to avoid the slick production values that can sometimes overwhelm Billy Bob’s albums.

With the addition of the studio material and the reappearance of old favorites like “Red Headed Woman”, this is a live album that is a complete picture of what a talented band can accomplish when strong songwriting and superior playing are their blueprints for success.

-Brad

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