My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Wade Bowen

Album Review: Wade Bowen – ‘Then Sings My Soul’

then sings my soulWe last heard from Wade Bowen when he teamed up with Randy Rogers for the excellent honky tonker Hold My Beer, Vol. 1. His latest project is rather different: a straightforward collection of traditional hymns, initially recorded as a gift for his mother. The production and song choice is very similar to Joey + Rory’s recent Hymns, and this album is a poor second in terms of both vocal prowess, and the emotional impact resulting from Joey’s death soon after the record’s release. However, Wade approaches the project with a sincerity which wins over the listener. Production is generally lowkey, with one unfortunate exception.

The best track is the quietly reflective version of ‘Amazing Grace’ which opens the album, with an organ backing. ‘Softly And Tenderly’ is also beautifully interpreted, and I very much liked his versions of ‘Farther Along’, ‘Peace In The Valley’ and ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’. ‘In The Garden’ and ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ are nicely done too, but I was a bit bored by ‘How Great Thou Art’.

‘I’ll Fly Away’ and ‘Just Over In The Glory Land’ are cheerfully upbeat, backed by a choir. ‘Precious Memories’ felt more phoned in. There is one track where Bowen indulges himself with the Southern rock/gospel styled ‘Saved’ which feels rather out of place.

The trouble with this album as a record is not that it is bad at all – indeed, I rather enjoyed it, and it makes a fitting record to play today. It is simply that there are so many better versions of these songs out there.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Randy Rogers Band – ‘Nothing Shines Like Neon’

41c2t4yC8TL._SS280After a decade on the dark side chasing mainstream success, The Randy Rogers Band has returned to its indie roots with Nothing Shines Like Neon, their first album in nearly three years. In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I’m not familiar with the band’s back catalog, although I did thoroughly enjoy Randy Rogers’ side project with Wade Bowen (Hold My Beer, Vol. 1), which was reviewed by Occasional Hope last year. Though not as traditional as Hold My Beer, Neon is reportedly more rootsy than any of the Band’s four releases for Mercury and MCA, which ought to please fans who had been complaining that the band had lost its edge during its tenure in Nashville.

One of the problems with music that falls under the Americana/alt-country Red Dirt umbrella is that much of it really isn’t country and much of it is a wasteland of non-commercial material sung by those with vocals that are too rough to have any kind of mass appeal. There is always some wheat among the chaff, though it can often be difficult to separate the two. The effort is worth it, though, when an album like this one comes along. Produced by Buddy Cannon, it’s more polished than I expected. The most surprising thing about it is that 10 or 15 years ago it would have been solidly within the realm of the mainstream, though it would definitely be out of place on today’s radio next to the Sam Hunts and Jason Aldeans.

Randy Rogers co-wrote seven of the album’s tracks, two of them with producer Cannon, but the album’s best cuts are the ones contributed by outside songwriters, starting with the opening track, the fiddle-led “San Antone” written by Keith Gattis. I particularly enjoyed “Things I Need to Quit”, which follows the tried-and-true theme of comparing an ex-lover to bad habits that need to be broken, in the vein of Patty Loveless’ “A Thousand Times a Day”. The mid-tempo “Old Moon New”, a Rogers co-write with Lee Thomas Miller and Wendell Mobley, sounds like something Collin Raye might have released early in his career.

The album’s best track is “Look Out Yonder”, which features beautiful harmonies by Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski. Jamey Johnson joins the band on “Actin’ Crazy”, a number about the morning after a night of tying one on, and fellow Texan Jerry Jeff Walker joins in on “Takin’ It As It Comes”, a party number that probably works better live in concert than it does on record.

The album’s weaker moments come when the band tries to be too middle-of-the-road; “Rain and the Radio”, “Neon Blues” and “Tequila Eyes” (a Cannon and Rogers collaboration with Dean Dillon) all fall into this trap. It was a little surprising to find songs like these on a Texas indie release. Perhaps the band hasn’t fully freed itself of Nashville’s shackles. Nevertheless, Nothing Shines Like Neon is a solid effort that refugees from bro-country and radio’s other atrocities are sure to enjoy.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers – ‘Hold My Beer vol. 1’

hold my beerWade Bowen and Randy Rogers are both artists who have flirted with mainstream success and major labels but have now returned to their Texas roots. They have toured together for years, and Lloyd Maines has produced their first duo album together. The result is on the country end of Texas Red Dirt, and is thoroughly enjoyable with some excellent songs.

The enjoyable buddyish ‘In The Next Life’ sees the pair sharing their musical experiences in Nashville and Texas, a good humoured review of good times and bad they cheerfully conclude:

All you need is one good friend
And in the next life
We wanna be ourselves again

More seriously they set out their stall with ‘Standards’, which deals with the problems with the music business in Nashville, and their own need to stay true to themselves:

Record man came and sat me down
He said, “I got some songs for you
There’s one about a dirt road
I really think you oughta do”
So I gave it a listen
And it wasn’t all that bad
But it ain’t me so I shook my head
That’s all there is to that

Well he just smiled
And he rolled his eyes
He said “How can I make you see?
We just need one big hit
The rest’ll be history
If we could find a way to compromise
You could be the next big star”
I said, “Man you might be right
But I don’t care if you are

I don’t have hits
I’ve got standards
Tell me how can I sell out
If I barely sell at all?”

Also excellent is the gently paced western story song ‘El Dorado’, the story of a weary ‘old desperado’ who is dying alone:

That is the fate of the old desperado
Better the angels to claim you than the long ride alone
Someone would have long ago found El Dorado
So good luck to you, cowboy, I’m moving on

Moving into sad song territory, ‘Til It Does’ is a rueful song about that realisation too late that a neglected loved one is about to reach breaking point:

She always wanted me to want her
Now I will
She always needed me to come home
Now I know
How that feels
These days I’m seein’ things
In ways that only missin’ her reveals

You don’t want the way it is
‘Til you’re wishin’ for the way it was
That’s how a heartache finds afool
It don’t happen ‘til it does

‘Hangin’ Out In Bars’ has a more upbeat feel musically, but is equally heartbroken musically, as the protagonist drinks away his unhappiness trying to get over his ex.

The pair take on western swing with the tongue in cheek ‘Good Luck With That’ about unwise decisions in life.

While there are no poor songs here, ‘Ladybug’ is a bit of a throwaway, but is still quite catchy and pleasant sounding.

There are a few covers mixed in with the new songs, including two Haggard tunes. The relaxed ‘It’s Been A Great Afternoon’ about the aftermath of a big night out fits in nicely, while the resigned ‘Reasons To Quit’ is best known from Haggard’s duet with Willie Nelson, and is excellent here. ‘I Had My Hopes Up High’ is a pleasant, energetic mid-tempo story song by Joe Ely, about a young man leaving home and the colourful characters he meets while hitchhiking.

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable album, and one I warmly recommend to anyone who likes real country music.

Grade: A

Occasional Hope’s favorite singles of 2013

i let her talkCountry radio may have gone from bad to worse this year, but as ever there were a few bright spots – and some great singles away from the mainstream offerings. Here are my favorite singles of 2013:

10. Wagon Wheel – Darius Rucker
A vibrant, charming cover with rootsy production. What a pity the rest of the album was so deadly dull.

9. It Ain’t The Whiskey – Gary Allan
A bit loud, and perhaps rather similar to past songs, but a great vocal makes this worthwhile.

8. Songs About Trucks – Wade Bowen
An emotion I think we can all get behind – no more songs about trucks, please. But this isn’t just a complaint, this song also has a genuine emotional storyline which lets it stand on its own merits.

overnight success7. Overnight Success – Zane Williams
The independent artist explains how to become a country star, overnight (well, after nine or ten years hard work, of course). A fine song, by turns ironic, self-deprecating and good humoured.

6. Stripes – Brandy Clark
The witty song isn’t the best on the singer-songwriter’s excellent album 12 Stories, but it’s highly entertaining nonetheless. It’s a pity it hasn’t got more mainstream attention.

what are you listening to5. What Are You Listening To – Chris Stapleton
A very tastefully arranged recording, a well written song, and intensely emotional vocal. It wasn’t as successful as I had hoped it would be, and the singer-songwriter and former SteelDriver still awaits release of his solo album for Mercury, but it’s a fine and memorable record.

4. I Got A Car – George Strait
The story song about a couple’s journey from first meeting to starting a family, written by Keith Gattis and Tom Douglas, was an obvious single choice from George’s current album. It is packed full of charm, and shows the veteran (unexpectedly named the CMA Entertainer of the year) still has commercial potential.

3. Could It Be – Charlie Worsham
A debut single from a young artist with a fresh, youthful sound. Utterly charming. I wasn’t as taken by the album, but the single (which reached #13 on the country airplay chart) stands up as one of the more refreshing moments on country radio this year.

borrowed2. Borrowed – LeAnn Rimes
A cheating song from LeAnn’s somewhat controversial Spitfire album. Her mature vocals are beautiful, and the self-penned song draws with an unsparing honesty on LeAnn’s own experiences with her early relationship with her current husband, when both were married to others. The song’s complicated emotions didn’t help LeAnn’s increasingly chequered image, but it’s a fine and deeply truthful song – what country music is all about. The production is delicately sensitive and allows the vocals to shine.

1. I Let Her Talk – Erin Enderlin
A fantastic story song from the singer-songwriter, this beautifully realised tale narrates a bar room encounter between two women drowing their troubles. In an unexpected twist the meeting turns out to be between a man’s wife (the narrator) and his clueless “careless drunk” lover. Erin wrote the song with the great Leslie Satcher, and it is perfectly constructed. This was the promotional single for Erin’s independent album of the same name, and although it received limited mainstream attention it was absolutely the best single of the year for me.