It's all in the timing.
As Wade Bowen looks ahead to the full-length release of his major-label debut and his emerging transition from regional success to national prominence, there was one vital dynamic affecting the timing: his fans. Across five independent albums and a decade-plus of touring, Bowen not only amassed a string of regional hits and awards, but also the kind of fan base whose passionate anticipation motivated the timing behind the May 2012 release of The Given, a 10-song collection and his first new music since 2008's If We Ever Make It Home.
Indeed, in the fourteen years since Bowen launched his career at Stubb's Barbecue in Lubbock, Texas, he's risen from collegiate greenhorn to the top of the Texas music and Red Dirt circuit. His colleagues and friends Pat Green, Jack Ingram, Eli Young Band and others had made the major-label leap, helping to take a vibrant regional sound to the rest of America. Now Bowen is poised to bring that Red Dirt and independent spirit to country music at large.
Make no mistake, this collection is a document of artistic evolution. Longtime fans (and there are quite a few of them) will hear the Bowen they've known and the next steps on his journey. They'll get better acquainted with the ballad singer who doesn't often get a chance to show that side of himself in honky tonks. Newcomers will hear a head-turning country artist with range, road-tested hits and one of the best male voices in the business.
That voice truly jumps out of these tracks. Wade's baritone is dense and concentrated, with traces of whisky and smoke and an autumnal warmth. Bowen takes command of his songs, cutting over the top of producer Justin Niebank's sculpted guitar-scapes. The sound is one hundred percent country, rife with pedal steel and vivid emotion, but it's also music that could easily find a home with fans of Bowen's rock idols - folks like Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne. Take a few passes through this project and you'll hearing a singer's singer and a focused songwriter who's adding layers to his music all the time.
"All this work and the care we've taken with this album just fall in the category of trying to get better," says Bowen. "When it comes to my intent as a musician, I've not changed anything since day one. I've only tried to mature and tried to get better, and I think this record is representative of that." On a live circuit where the overwhelming mandate is to stir up a party, Bowen has aimed to leave folks with a memory. As a writer, even one from a state with some tall literary traditions, he's not trying to earn a PhD in poetry; he's trying to communicate. "My style," he says, "is more to try to evoke an emotion. I'm more about trying to leave a mark on people."
Growing up in Waco, Bowen's exposure to the music of Texas was limited to whatever made it on FM country radio. George Strait was king. Guy Clark was a name he'd not have recognized before getting to college. But at school, in Lubbock, he discovered the full spectrum of Texas artistry, starting with Robert Earl Keen. "He was a big changing point in my life," says Wade. "I realized by listening to him that there was way more out there than I ever knew. So I started getting into Guy Clark and other great Texas music. But I was obsessed with Robert Earl. When we started the band we were sort of a Robert Earl cover band."
That band was called West 84, and they found that with their large posse of friends who'd always show up for a good time, it was easy to land gigs. Bowen meanwhile began to channel a lifelong love of writing into songs, and when college ended he made two major decisions. He took on the role of solo artist, and he moved to Austin. By then, about 2001, fellow Waco native Pat Green had busted out to national prominence and the Texas music phenomenon was the buzz of Nashville. It was part of Wade Bowen's inspiration to charge ahead.
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