Six albums into a career can pigeonhole an artist. Throw in a few live offerings and you think you have a pretty good understanding of what a songwriter is and is trying to convey with their music. Wade Bowen is no different. He’s a brand unto himself. Solid. Heartworn. Country. With a rocking live show. It’s been that way going back to his West 84 roots. He’s always taken the stone cold country overarching approach in the studio and married his Zeppelin meets Keen live show to go along with it. I believe it was my The Co-Write podcast cohorts who made the analogy that Wade is like the really dependable leadoff hitter on a baseball team. He’s not going to go Babe Ruth on you, but he’s going to consistently get on base, steal bases and score runs. In other words, “Saturday Night” hit #39 on the chart back in 2011 and is a song that Wade will play for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, many of the songs that landed ahead of it that week on the charts have been forgotten to history. It’s not always the flashiest, but it stays with you the longest. What Wade Bowen does matters.
That’s because Wade Bowen has built a career to last. Its foundation is his impeccable songwriting and emotive singing voice that just keeps getting stronger year to year after some vocal cord issues a few years back. Bowen has seen the highs of the music industry and sunk to some lows. He’s seen it all and dealt with it and come out sharper. When it came time to head back into a post-Covid studio, he trusted that he and he alone was the only one that could deliver the results he wanted with this latest record. He’s worked with a cadre of powerhouse producers over the years including Lloyd Maines on the Hold My Beer records, and Keith Gattis on his last studio project, so he knew the sound and vibe he was looking for. Bowen took the lessons of the past twenty years and took them to the producer’s chair. It was a musical truth staring him in the face amid the secrets of the industry. He unlocked his truth and steered his own vision.
Bowen had a wealth of songs to choose from for this album and had a hand in writing or co-writing them alongside some of the heaviest hitters in the industry. Co-writers include Lori McKenna, Drew Kennedy, Eric Paslay, Heather Morgan and Randy Montana. Bowen took those songs, assembled an A-team of studio musicians and set about making a country music statement. The incomparable Vince Gill even turns up on backing vocals and guitar. The title of the album is Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth, but there is no secret and all truth in the heart of these songs.
This collection follows 2021’s superb EP Where Phones Don’t Work and continues with the same vibe, structure and sound. These are songs about real life. The triumphs, the struggles and the in between times that make up most of all of it. Lead single “Everything Has Your Memory” is a classic Wade Bowen song from lyric structure to the melody and guitar riff. It fits seamlessly into his setlists and feels like the type of song you’ve already heard for years.
It’s classic country about not being able to outrun an ex’s memory in a small town, and it’s pulled off in an expert manner. “The Secret To This Town” is another smalltown anthem that we don’t get enough of anymore. It’s a character study of the American heartland that would feel trite in less capable hands, but Bowen paints the picture so well you feel like it’s happening right in front of you.
The big tentpole of the album is the Gill collaboration on “A Guitar, A Singer, and a Song”. It’s a McKenna co-write that is simply about what the title of the song says. It’s the tale of all the songwriters you love that toil up and down the highway with busted strings and a little bit of money because they’re chasing and believe in the power of the song. The pace picks up on “She’s Driving Me Crazy” and “Say Goodbye” who are 4/4 blasts of Petty-esque emotional country-tinged rock n’ roll.
This is the album that if somebody knew nothing about Wade Bowen, it could be played and it would explain it all. The influences, the sounds, the heart, the power, the appeal…the songwriter. It’s all there. It took 20 years and him taking the production reigns himself, but Bowen has delivered his opus.