Wade Bowen Talks New Album Ahead of Fort Worth Shows
Now that it’s been a few years, stories continue to emerge of artists who have turned the months of COVID-19 shutdown into a fruitful time. Little did he know it at the time, but singer-songwriter Wade Bowen needed the downturn to spark his own renaissance.
For most of the past two decades, Bowen have been one of the most popular bands on the Texas country scene, touring almost constantly in every corner of the United States and beyond. For any fan watching from the outside, Bowen had no major reason to doubt that his career was on the right track or that his music was hitting all the right notes. But he didn’t feel that then. He had trouble understanding where his discomfort came from, yet he felt a bit lost. It was a feeling that had eaten at him before the world had even stopped.
He cherished the time spent at home in the Texas Hill Country with his wife and children as theaters closed and festivals canceled throughout the summer of uncertainty of 2020. As Bowen settled into what was surely the most normal version of adult life he had ever known, one without sleeping on tour buses and playing in a different city every night of the week, he began to gain clarity. He found that sometimes the best route to a destination is simply to take the straightest path.
“I started asking myself some simple questions,” Bowen says over the phone from his bus as he drives to another gig. “‘What do I like? What kind of music do I like?’ I love country music, and I really love 80s and 90s country music. I love the lyrics from that era and what the artists were singing about, so I dove into that and found the direction I needed and the balance I wanted just in remembrance of what I love.”
Bowen is performing with Randy Rogers at Billy Bob’s Texas on Friday, July 22 and Saturday, July 23, in support of his upcoming album, Somewhere between the secret and the truth. His latest album is unquestionably the most country album he has released alone. For the most part, Bowen’s excellent catalog consists of records filled with roots rock gems that align perhaps more closely with Springsteen than Strait, but his love of great country songwriters such as Willie Nelson and Guy Clark is also more than apparent. And his hold my beer The duet albums with his longtime friend Randy Rogers are honky-tonk albums of the highest order, but of course these are not representative of his own main work.
It’s not accurate to suggest that Bowen eventually made at least one country record, as his work has always leaned more towards country-style storytelling than, say, hard-hitting modern rock. But even he says this new album is the countryiest he’s ever recorded, and he hopes people will take notice.
The album is populated with songs featuring quintessential “country characters”, sitting in a bar, nursing grief and loneliness, sharing small town secrets or preparing for hard times, not to mention downright gorgeous pedal steel work. Somewhere between the secret and the truth succeeds in Bowen’s quest to make a record that could have safely lined up with some of the seminal radio-ready country albums of the days when Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clay Walker and Vince Gill ruled the stage. He co-wrote each of the tracks with an all-star cast of great songwriters, including Eric Paslay, Heather Morgan, Randy Montana, Drew Kennedy and Lori McKenna.
Just as Bowen asking the question of what he likes has guided him in this direction, keeping it simple has led to this project becoming the best it can be, and that has included the singer and songwriter taking on a new role as as a single producer.
“I want people to listen to this album and feel good, to feel like dancing, to think about their own lives. And I really want them to feel like they’re hearing a guy sing. is finally found too.” –Wade Bowen
“I didn’t really agree with that idea at first,” he says. “But I had hired a new manager, and she gave me this newfound confidence and really pushed me out of my comfort zone. She sometimes believed in me more than I believed in myself and having the reins of the studio I’ve been doing this long enough to know what I want out of a song or a record, so I just said “Fuck you, let’s see what happens” and I was like surrounded by good people, like Gary Strizek as an engineer, and we kept it simple.”
Simplicity would prove to be an important common thread connecting so many Somewhere between the secret and the truth together. The album still sounds a lot like a Wade Bowen album, but Bowen, the producer, made some vital decisions about how Bowen, the singer and musician, would approach these new songs in a new way.
“In country music, just like in the blues, keeping things simple can seem complex when done right,” he says. “I wanted to focus on the singer’s soul and passion. There’s nothing crazy or eccentric about the chord progressions on the album, there are hardly any minor chords. It’s just straight ahead with plenty of room for the band to breathe, the vocals to breathe, and most importantly, the lyrics to breathe in. I feel like I’m writing the best songs of my life and that simplicity that I’m talking about makes them shine.
And speaking of shining, the album’s final single, “A Guitar, a Singer and a Song,” is just the kind of brilliantly simple, yet jaw-dropping track that best showcases this post-lockdown version of music. of Bowen. Vince Gill, the Country Music Hall of Famer with more Grammy Awards than any other male country artist in history, lent his iconic tenor and nimble acoustic guitar work to the gorgeous ballad which, as the title suggests, uses the clarity of simplicity to crystallize its indicate.
After all, says Bowen, part of what makes country music great is its emphasis on a song’s purity. He hopes his decision to pursue the simplicity of country music will resonate with his listeners.
“I want people to hear this album and feel good, want to dance, think about their own lives,” he says. “And I really want them to feel like they’re hearing a guy sing who finally found himself too.”