When I wrote this cover story feature piece for Lone Star Music magazine five years ago, Wade Bowen was in a period of self-induced creative transition. Switching his band up, expanding songwriting partners, bringing in new producers, booking agents and management. That gamble certainly paid off. Now as 2014 is coming to a close, Bowen is yet again pushing himself forward. However, this time it’s by going backward somewhat.
What I mean by that is Bowen’s latest record is free of the pressure of having to make it. He’s made it. On his own, gambled terms. With this new record, Bowen is free to gamble in a new way: by listening to his heart completely. Following the muse of your soul isn’t always easy when you have a band, crew and family of dozens relying on you. Free from the confines of fitting into any preconceived boxes or external pressures, Bowen delivers his finest collection of songs.
Bowen’s always had a wide creative palatte fostered by a varied. personal music fandom. Yet, the stuff he laid down in the studio always maintained a heavy, serious overtone that belied the more lighthearted facets of his personality. This new incarnation features a healthier balance of “Walking Along the Fenceline” alongside “Drinka the vodka!”
All of these career adjustments and freedoms allowed Bowen to make a well-rounded record that accentuates all his best qualities, but with a newfound experimental side. The country aesthetic is woven into each song via Bowen’s voice, but the instrumentation and production is a sonic soundscape of varied textures, vibes, styles and sounds. Originals mix with co-writes (Will Hoge, Sean McConnell, Randy Rogers).
One of the coolest tracks is a cover of “Honky Tonk Road” that features Rogers, McConnell and Cody Canada joining Bowen. This tune first gained notoriety after it was covered by Walt Wilkins and his Mystiquero bretheren. Bowen and company take the song in a new, yet equally powerful direction. Lead single, “When I Woke Up Today” is an upbeat, radio-friendly tale that does a fantastic job of embodying the theme of the entire collection. The free-wheeling attitude of this collection doesn’t negate the emotional power of songs such as “West Texas Rain” and “Hungover” (two of the strongest songs Bowen has ever recorded).
The most striking thing about the self-titled Wade Bowen album is that it feels as if listeners are finally getting a peek at the real Wade Bowen. He’s given us pieces for 15 years, but on this effort he’s pulling no punches, showcasing all the skeletons, and welcoming judgement on a scale that most vulnerable artists and songwriters don’t welcome. Bowen has let go of any ties that bind him and laid it all out there for the world to see. Happy, reflective, amusing and somber. All the aspects of his personality are on display. It’s so rewarding, as a fan, to hear this much honesty in a record. It comes out Tuesday October 28th and I think it’s the best thing he’s ever done. It’s easily in my top 3 favorites of 2014 and I hope you’ll dig into it as much as I have.