The Texas Country/Red Dirt scene has produced a great amount of quality country artists in recent years. From a mainstream superstar like Kacey Musgraves to known independents like Rich O’Toole. Then there’s an artist who has been on both sides of the fence: Wade Bowen. In 2012 Bowen released his first record on a major label (BNA Records) after shining in the Texas Country scene for years. While this was his first and so far only top ten country album, many of his longtime fans felt he got away from what made him great. Well apparently he felt the same as he’s now back to being independent and seems pretty happy about it. In a recent interview with Billboard, Bowen said he approached this album different from his previous albums:
“I had a few different ideas for the title that were floating around, but none of them really stuck,” he tells Billboard. “I kept listening to the record, and I thought, ‘Don’t do the normal thing. Go against the grain.'”
Bowen admits the same philosophy also extended itself to the recording process. “I just wanted to have fun with this record, and make sure it’s different from anything I’ve done. I think this is sort of a reset button for me in my career.”
I think this is a great approach for Bowen and I commend him for wanting to switch it up. Does this decision pay off? Well let’s just say I don’t have many complaints with this album.
The album starts off with “When I Woke Up Today,” a song about Bowen waking up and observing the events around him, from some girl crying at the bus stop to a couple getting married. Basically it’s a simple song about everyday life. You know a normal life, like you and I experience, not partying in fields and driving down dirt roads like the bro artists say we live. The song is solid. Bowen keeps it simple again with “Sun Shines on a Dreamer.” It’s a love song that tells a short story about a woman who meets a man and falls in love. There are no frills or any deep layers are in this song. It’s straightforward and back to basics country music. It’s a solid, yet unspectacular song.
This is followed by another love song, “My California.” It’s about a man in love with a woman from California, as throughout the song he compares her to the many features of the state. This is an interesting song choice from the Texan. It’s a decent love song, but the lyrics could’ve been so much better. To me it was too cliché to drop so many features of California into the song. This is probably the weakest point on the album, although for many artists this might be one of their better songs. But I expect great songs from Bowen, which is exactly what he delivers for the rest of the album. “Watch Her Drive” is a love song about a man falling for his dream woman, but he’s fearful of losing her after the night is over (he does). There are a couple of moments while listening to this song where you think it’s going in a bro country directions, but thankfully it never does. This is a song that is easy to like with the infectious rhythm and simple storytelling.
Bowen shows his more emotion side in “Hungover.” This song is about a man who feels hungover when he wakes up the next morning, yet he didn’t drink a single drop of alcohol the night before. Instead he got “drunk on his own pride” and is heartbroken over his actions the previous night. This song has a simple premise yet the meaning goes much deeper. The instrumentation is well put-together and Bowen’s vocals are spot on. This is a great song that you shouldn’t look over when listening to this album. “West Texas Rain” is another song about life and it compares moments in life to the west Texas rain. Again the storytelling and emotions are quite simple, but Bowen’s delivery and the instrumentation sell this song to the listener’s ears. It’s hard to describe why this song is so good and really something to hear for yourself. Maybe because it’s relatable to the everyday person. Bowen said this is his favorite song on the album and I have to agree with him.
The album speeds up with “When It’s Reckless.” This is an up tempo country song with rock influences about a man who lives for danger and recklessness. It’s a change of pace from Bowen’s normal laid back approach, as this song attacks the listener’s ears instead of just waiting for the listener. There are plenty of steel guitars featured in this song. Bowen appears to do some self-reflecting in “Long Enough to Be a Memory.” This is about a man who moved away from his hometown and is living in a town now thousands of miles away. He’s hoping he sticks around long enough to be remembered, but he’s looking forward to making his return home where he knows he’s remembered. This is really a song about hometowns, without being about hometowns as it describes the feelings everyone has about their home. This is probably one of my favorite songs about hometowns I’ve heard this year. Take notes mainstream country music.
“Sweet Leona” is about a man who professes his love about a woman named Leona. But he’s not ready to tell her yet and for now simply remains an admirer who dreams about her. It’s your classic country love ballad. One of the most underutilized instruments in country music, the harmonica, is used prominently in the song. That always gets two thumbs up from me. This song kind of reminds me of Zac Brown Band’s “Sweet Annie” and not just because sweet is used in the titles of both. These songs are both about a man who is clearly in love with a woman, but afraid to commit and experience it. Regardless I like both of these songs. The next song, “Welcome Mat,” is one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s about a man saying the woman who just left him treated him like a welcome mat. He feels used, dirty and laid out flat. I think that’s a feeling listeners who have experienced these kinds of relationships can relate to. The song has a Tex-Mex/Western feel to it that really brings the listener in too. To me everything in this song works together perfectly and delivers in a big way.
Bowen and his band have fun with “Honky Tonk Road.” This is just a fun party song that you listen to at the end of a long week. I said this is a party song and some might immediately think bro country, but none of these tropes are really in the song. It goes to show you that you can make a good party song without the usual clichés that make you want to vomit and still honors the traditional country sound. It’s a well-written song. And one more thing that makes this song so much better than Florida Georgia Line party songs: a piano! The album comes to a close with “I’m Gonna Go,” a song about remaining persistent and pushing ahead in life. At least that’s what I got from this song. It’s motivational without being blatant and cheesy about it. The album caps off similar to Sturgill Simpson’s album with a mostly instrumental song that has a simple theme. Speaking of the instrumentation in this song, it’s different. I would classify it as having an alternative/rock influence. Whatever you want to call this influence, it works for this reviewer.
There really isn’t one bad song on this album, although there are a couple of songs that don’t shine as bright as the other songs on the album. Nevertheless I really have no complaints about this album. Bowen is pretty much all-around solid on almost every song. The instrumentation is good and the songwriting tells stories and evokes emotions in listeners. On a personal note it is refreshing to be reviewing great country music again and not the garbage that has been spewing out of mainstream country in the last two months. If you’re a mainstream country music fan who is looking to get into the independent and Texas Country scenes, I would start with Bowen because he’s smooth enough for mainstream radio and he’s traditional enough for traditional country fans. I give this album a high recommendation and it’s definitely worth your money to go buy.