Album Review — Wade Bowen’s ‘Twelve Twenty-Five’

Every year modern artists will release their interpretations of classic Christmas songs, whether via singles or even an entire album. And maybe they’ll even sprinkle in a few originals if you’re lucky. But the problem is most of them don’t stand out in any way. You’ll listen to it once, say “that’s neat” and then go right back to listening to the same old songs you always listen to around the holidays. Occasionally though someone will actually release something worthy of earning a spot in your Christmas songs rotation and this year that’s Wade Bowen’s new Christmas album Twelve Twenty-Five. I had a great feeling about the Texas country artist’s first Christmas album when it was announced, and it went beyond even my own expectations.

Bowen opens with his rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and he knocks his performance out of the park. It’s infectious, fun and gets the Christmas energy on this album kicked off perfectly. And I’m happy the production doesn’t go over the top like it usually does when other artists cover this song. “O Holy Night” is next and this is admittedly one of my favorite religious Christmas songs. That’s because I feel it truly captures the joy and meaning of Christmas through the Christian lens and Bowen’s performance truly does justice to it, which isn’t surprise considering he released a great gospel album.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is next and I can tell that Bruce Springsteen’s version of the song influences Bowen’s own version. It’s got a more rocking feeling rather than the classical approach many take and even banters in the song like Springsteen. But Bowen pulls it off so much better than Bruce because he doesn’t over sing it (stay tuned for further elaboration on why I hate the Boss’s take on the song), and the guitars and pianos don’t blast the listener. Less can be more. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” showcases why I enjoy Bowen in more stripped-down songs. His voice just fits these piano ballads and the song also properly captures the feeling I look for in the covering of this song: mostly somber, but with bits of optimism and hope.

Bowen’s son Brock joins him on “Holly Jolly Christmas” and I must admit I usually hate children singing. But I actually enjoy this performance because it’s endearing, and Bowen goes full dad in the bridge of the song. It’s hilarious while also avoiding being corny and feeling forced. It feels real and as the listener I can appreciate and enjoy this. When I think of “Please Come Home for Christmas” the first version I think of is The Eagles’ version, as I believe it to be the best. And while I don’t think Bowen’s version tops it, it’s still pretty damn good, as he captures the yearning and wanting needed in his vocal performance.

Bowen is joined by another one of his sons, Bruce, on the Irving Berlin classic “White Christmas.” This performance is much different than the other one, as both take this song more seriously and Bruce sounds pretty good. Their harmonies sound great too. You can tell the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, as he may one day follow his father’s footsteps. It’s a heartfelt and enjoyable performance from the father and son duo.

I have to say I was surprised to see Wade Bowen cover the Mariah Carey classic “What I Want for Christmas is You,” as the song’s high popularity and sterling reputation amongst critics and listeners alike makes it a challenging song for other artists to tackle. Not to mention it requires some serious pipes to pull off. But he does a fantastic job! It’s a different take that I think is worthy of being in anybody’s Christmas playlist. Again, if you’re like me and you get sick of Christmas songs going a little too far with production at times these more minimally produced Christmas songs are a fresh change of pace. If you don’t want to spend time with this whole album, this is one of a few songs that should absolutely be heard.

“Til The Season Comes Round Again” is great to hear covered, as this song is a classic that often gets overlooked. It’s a warm blanket next to the fire type song that Bowen along with the soulful feature of Sean McConnell cover really well. The addition of McConnell harmonizing with Bowen is really the cherry on top to make it a memorable performance. Dolly Parton’s “Once Upon a Christmas” is covered next and I will never complain about a Dolly song showing up. While this is one of the my less favorite takes on the album (it has the unenviable task of living up to Dolly and Kenny Rogers), it’s still solid and I like the Texas influences that are incorporated into the song.

The great Cody Canada joins Bowen for a rendition of Merle Haggard’s brilliant “If We Make It Through December.” I remember growing up I found this song to be kind of depressing and it is, but it’s also important that this unpleasant and for some people, really real look at the other side of Christmas be presented. It shows that Christmas doesn’t always go like it does in the movies and that reality and what you want don’t always align. In other words, why we love country music: it’s real.

Bowen goes to the other end of the spectrum with his cover of Wham!’s “Last Christmas.” And for some this might be sacrilegious to say, but I find Bowen’s cover to be better than the original by George Michael. The reason is 1) I hate the excessive synth on the original and 2) Bowen’s more stripped-down version allows the great lyrics to shine. Both these points play into each other, as the synths and overall cheesy feeling of the original really takes away from the quality of the lyrics that tell the complicated story of love lost around the holidays. This was easily an immediate standout on this album. Appropriate, the album closes with “Silent Night.” It’s just a natural closing song for a Christmas album and Bowen delivers a stirring and soulful rendition of this Christmas staple.

Twelve Twenty-Five is a modern Christmas album done right and I applaud Wade Bowen for accomplishing something that surprisingly so many modern artists screw up. Bowen takes classic songs and instead of trying to add some “twist” to make it stand out, instead just delivers them through his own voice with a country flavor while respecting the original takes on them. And don’t dismiss this as just a great country Christmas album. This is a great Christmas album against any genre.

Grade: 9 candy canes out of 10

The Hodgepodge: Your Favorite Artist Doesn’t Owe You Anything

The best and probably the worst thing about the internet and social media is the constant contact and potential interaction fans can have with their favorite artist. Many artists will do Q&As on social media or respond to other kinds of tweets at any time. The ability to connect with your favorite artists is awesome, and one of my favorite things about using Twitter. When abused though, that same ability can become the worst thing.

Personally, one of my pet peeves about Twitter are those who randomly ask their favorite singer, movie star, or athlete for a retweet. What does that accomplish when you beg someone to retweet your message begging them for a retweet? But that’s just the beginning, as you’ll see fans beg for meet & greets at concerts, autographs, or even concert tickets through tweets and Facebook posts.

Farce the Music noted this frequently popping up on Kane Brown’s Facebook page. This is also something I’ve noticed on Facebook with a couple of artists I follow. The biggest offenders I see on my Facebook (because I don’t follow a lot of mainstream acts) are Cross Canadian Ragweed fans on Cody Canada’s page who haven’t moved on from the fact that Ragweed is a band of the past. There are those who complain about a certain Ragweed song not being played at a Departed concert or pester Canada constantly about a band reunion. I can only imagine how obnoxious that must be to the singer.

But looking at mainstream pages of Kane Brown, Cole Swindell, or Luke Bryan, you see fans desperately beg those artists for any little recognition or perk simply because they’re fans with a sob story. This happens to the point where some people actually choose to publicly share their phone numbers with the hopes that the artist will call them back.

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Screen Shot from a post on Cole Swindell’s official Facebook page

 

 

 

Other fans beg for perks from the artist simply because they’ve recently lost a relative or friend.

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Screen Shot from a post on Luke Bryan’s official Facebook Page

 

 

 

 

 

These sorts of actions further add to the notion of how entitled music fans feel about their access to music and/or artists. Josh wrote last year about fans who believed they should be paid to listen to an artists’ album. Singers don’t owe anything extra to the fans than simply providing music for you to enjoy. If your favorite singer doesn’t want to do a free meet and greet, or sign autographs, they don’t have to. All that’s really expected is that the singer puts out an album you like and performs a concert you enjoy. Outside of that, there’s nothing you as a fan are entitled to.

Now, phrased in the right way, I think there are respectable ways of asking for that sort of information. “Will there be an opportunity for meet and greet after the show?” To me, that seems like a good way to learn that information without seeming pushy or greedy. But those who say “you should do ‘x’ or ‘y’ because I’ve experience ‘z'” are the entitled fans who try too hard. Singers are people too, and they’re allowed to run their tour in any way they choose.

Don’t be the entitled fan begging on social media. Respect your favorite artists and don’t expect anything that’s not promised by the concert ticket you purchase.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Miranda Lambert will reveal a new single, “Vice,” off her upcoming album.
  • David Nail’s Fighter will be released tomorrow.
  • Also released tomorrow is Big Shoals’ Hard Lessons and Confederate Railroad’s Lucky to be Alive.
  • At the end of the month, Lori McKenna will release The Bird & the Rifle.
  • Hillary Scott will release Love Remains on July 29.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Bubba Shot the Jukebox” by Mark Chesnutt. When I was about 8 years old, a country cover artist at the local county fair brought me and my cousins up on stage to help him sing this song. All I really did was fold my hand like a pistol whenever he sang, “Bubba shot the jukebox,” but it’s a fun memory, and this song is special to me for that reason. So in honor of Mark Chesnutt’s release of his new album, this 1992 single is my throwback song.

Non-Country Song of the Week

“S.I.D.” by Rainsford Rainey Qualley, who released a pop-country EP featuring “Me and Johnny Cash” has released a full-fledged pop single under her name Rainsford. Not a bad pop single, and I appreciate the fact that she’s released the song under a different name from her country persona.

Tweet of the Week

As Pokemon Go continues to take over the world, I like the idea of song parodies!

A Mark Chesnutt iTunes Review

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I’d say some kids today understand good country music like Chesnutt, but I pretty much agree with this review. You’ll soon see our review for Tradition Lives.

The Hodgepodge: The CMA Awards’ Awful Exclusions for Song of the Year


Yesterday, Steven Tyler and Kelsea Ballerini announced the nominees for the upcoming CMA Awards. Some nominations came as no surprise to anyone (notably the Entertainer of the Year category, Vocal Group of the Year category, and the trio of Carrie, Miranda and Kacey at the top of the Female Vocalist category). Other nominations like Chris Stapleton for Album and Male Vocalist of the year are pleasant surprises. I can’t say I’m too surprised to see his name under New Artist, but that nonetheless is a welcome nomination as well.

The one category that draws ire from me, however is the Song of the Year nominees:

  • “American Kids” (Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird, Shane McAnally)
  • “Girl Crush” (Liz Rose, Lori McKenna, Hillery Lindsey)
  • “Like a Cowboy” (Randy Houser, Brice Long)
  • “Like a Wrecking Ball” (Eric Church, Casey Beathard)
  • “Take Your Time” (Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne)

Three of the five (“Girl Crush”, “Take Your Time”, and “American Kids”) are also nominated for Single of the Year. The other singles up for grabs are “Talladega” and “I Don’t Dance.” I find it very odd that none of Carrie’s two recent eligible singles “Something in the Water” and “Little Toy Gun” are nominated in either category, especially Song of the Year. Song of the Year is an award that celebrates songwriting and story telling in country music.

“Something in the Water” and “Little Toy Guns” had great chart runs, continuing Carrie’s trend of most of her singles getting to the top three of the airplay charts. “Something in the Water” has been certified platinum and “Little Toy Guns” gold. Both songs feature some fantastic storytelling and songwriting. It’s an insult to country music that two successful, well-written singles are overlooked for Song/Single of the Year while Sam Hunt’s stupid talk-sing pop song and Kenny Chesney’s boring checklist song are nominated for both. I know that the CMA, for whatever reason, have no love for Carrie Underwood, but this is a huge injustice to her music. The mere fact that neither song got at least one nomination is appalling and further exemplifies how the establishment of country music in Nashville continues to abandon its roots in favor of “cool pop music.”

Another song I think was vastly overlooked for the Song of the Year category was Tim McGraw’s “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools.” A song that is true country music and that had an impressive chart run among a dreck of pop songs, it’s surprising that “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” didn’t get a nomination. When you look at songs that have won Song of the Year in the past, Tim’s song and Carrie’s two songs fit right in with the slower tempo songs that rely on a raw emotion to draw in listeners.

In a just world, all three singles alongside “Girl Crush” and Jake Owen’s “What We Ain’t Got” would have been nominated for Song of the Year, making for an intriguing list and a must-watch category (controversy aside). Instead we have to put up with the fact that the CMA have traded timeless quality and roots in one of their most important categories for songs that are hip today and forgotten tomorrow. The only positive we can take from these two categories is if Sam Hunt goes home empty-handed, but that’s only a moral victory at best.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • The Damn Quails released their second album last Friday on September 4th. I’m bummed I overlooked it in this section until now, but the crowd-funded Out of the Birdcage is an album well worth your time. We should have a review for it soon.
  • Tami Neilson has released a new song and video from her upcoming release Don’t Be Afraid. “Lonely” is a song Ron Neilson, her father, at began writing but never finished before his death in February of this year. Tami and her brother Jay finished the song in his memory.
  • Turnpike Troubadours will release their fourth studio effort on September 18th.
  • Stoney LaRue will be releasing a new album of covers called Us Time on October 16th. This announcement comes quickly after LaRue’s arrest for domestic abuse.
  • And more Red Dirt news, Cody Canada and Mike McClure, of The Great Divide and Mike McClure Band, recently collaborated in a live acoustic show which will be mixed and released into a live acoustic album.
  • Tim McGraw has tweeted a date without any reference “11-6-15.” Being a Friday, this is 100% a date that will coincide with new music, most likely a new album.  I’m sure more details will be revealed over the next two months.

Today in Country Music History

  • In 1957, Johnny Cash’s first album, Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar, is released.
  • Lynn Anderson records “Rose Garden” in 1970.

Today’s Country Music history facts come courtesy of RolandNote.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Rose in Paradise” by Waylon Jennings. Also on this day in 1986, Waylon recorded this song at Groundstar Labs in Nashville. This is simply a great country song and shows a nice vocal range for Jennings. While I think Chris Young and Willie Nelson’s collaborative cover of this song is also great, Waylon’s original will always be the best version of the song.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


The Arcs Yours, Dreamily, This is a side project for The Black Keys singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach. Auerbach teams up with multi-instrumentalist Leon Michaels for this experimental rock album. Yours, Dreamily, has a good pace and rhythm over the album and features some excellent harmonies and instrumentation.

Tweet of the Week

Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, and Cole Swindell walk into a college football game…..

An iTunes Review That Makes Me Smile

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This review was left under Maddie & Tae’s Start Here.  The album received high praise here, and this reviewer seems to be in agreement with us.  Also, you have to love any opportunity to call out Sam Hunt, Florida Georgia Line and Chase Rice for their trashy pop music.