Image courtesy of Wade Bowen
By Trevor Christian
There may no longer be a place at Sony Nashville for Texas singer-songwriter Wade Bowen, but there’s clearly a place on iTunes for him. And on the morning of his album’s release, that place was second on the country charts and fourth overall.
Bowen is most well known for his singles “Saturday Night” and “Songs About Trucks,” which both go against the grain of the country radio narrative of wild nights and dirt roads. “Saturday Night” is the melancholy story of a man in a bar wishing for quiet; “Songs About Trucks” is literally a request for someone to stop singing about trucks. Sony Nashville and Bowen decided to part ways after the later of the two tunes failed to chart in 2013. Bowen moved to Amp, a much smaller label that has a history of allowing for some pretty creative work.
The self-titled fifth studio release by Bowen is no exception to this trend. “Watch Her Drive” plays as a roots rock track, comparable to fellow Texas songwriter Guy Clark’s “Sis Draper,” by painting its subject as somewhat of a legend. He even caps it with a spoken word ending as well. “Drive,” along with “I’m Gonna Go,” both run more than six minutes. The slower cuts on the album unlikely to receive radio play, including the regretful and introspective “Hungover,” run deep.
What’s also evident on the album is Bowen’s appreciation for being free from the constraints of a major studio. He operated for years as a Red Dirt rocker, mostly on Texas stations, before moving to Sony Nashville where he gained the name recognition that made the success of this album possible. The lack of prominent Texas country albums as of late also probably played a role.
“When I Woke up Today” and “Sun Shines on a Dreamer” both exude hope, energy and spirituality. The first of these tracks is the album’s lead song and single. It probably won’t chart on country radio, though this is one of those albums that works better as a whole. Most songs are at least somewhat similar to the one before and the mood of the lyrics becomes lighter toward either end of the album.
Labelmate Will Hoge, the singer behind “Strong” on the Silverado commercials, writes on the rocking “When It’s Reckless” and Randy Rogers lends his vocals to a rollicking cover of “Honky Tonk Road.” But nothing tops Vince Gill’s backing vocals on “West Texas Rain.” The two combine for a beautiful harmony, with Bowen taking a powerful lead and Gill grounding the tune almost as much as its lyrics do.
Larger labels will have the last laugh this week. The increasingly popular Sam Hunt, who inventively blends pop, country and even elements of R&B, will almost definitely dominate a country landscape that could have easily been dominated by Taylor Swift had she wanted to keep going in the genre. Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean will continue to rack up sales despite this epic review from the Dallas Observer. But the Internet is a great equalizer for those on small labels. And at least for now, Bowen is ahead quite a few bros on the country charts.