Wade Bowen ‘Solid Ground’ Album Review
1. Couldn’t Make You Love Me
2. Day Of The Dead
3. So Long 6th Street
4. Broken Glass
5. Death, Dyin’ And Deviled Eggs
8. Compass Rose
10. Fell in Love On Whiskey
11. Calling All Demons
Wade Bowen has been a fixture in Texas and other parts of the United States for many years now and has set a ridiculously high standard of excellence with classic albums like ‘Lost Hotel’ and ‘If We Ever Make It Home.’ His last two solo albums have included some of his best songs, such as ‘West Texas Rain,’ but the albums have not quite jelled to the classic status of the two I mentioned. His last studio work was with Randy Rogers and produced their incredible ‘Hold My Beer, Volume 1’ album. While it might be too early to hail ‘Solid Ground’ as another classic, it establishes itself as an early contender in the Americana/ Red Dirt/ Country album of the year discussion.
The album comes to life with ‘Couldn’t Make You Love Me’ which I enjoy but ironically is not a song that I find myself playing when I only have time to play a few songs from the album. It does mark a few changes to expect though as it is midtempo and very much Red Dirt in feel with no hints of Nashville. Apparently guitarist Audley Freed (Cry of Love/ Black Crowes) provided the initial impetus of this song through the riff. Wade has said this is a ‘Texas’ record, and it is easy to see why when listening to the subtle musical additions to the songs, musical approach, and the stories told in the lyrics. ‘Day Of The Dead’ made an immediate impact on me with its Spanish guitar intro setting the tone, but my favorite part is the sound of the trumpets as the song ends on an extended instrumental outro that creates a cinematic feeling. ‘So Long 6th Street’ slows the tempo down with a touching tribute to Austin that includes Miranda Lambert and Jack Ingram providing some great harmony vocals in the background. One of the things that makes Wade’s work so amazing is his command of telling a story within his songs. He paints pictures that bring the songs to life. If you have ever been to Austin, you will have your own memories of the 6th Street area, but he helps bring these places to life for people who have never even seen photos of Austin.
‘Broken Glass’ maintains the slow tempo but creates superb musical tension with the simmering build eventually giving way to the drums before the wave recedes again for a final verse before rising again. The brisk largely acoustic ‘Death, Dyin’, And Deviled Eggs’ has become one of my favorite songs by Wade with its portrait of a funeral, life, and saying goodbye to loved ones. I would love to see this one stretched out musically in a live setting. As a testament to the power of this album, the powerful epic ‘7:30’ comes next with the listener hanging on every note as we learn of the passing of a loved one. The extended solo and outro is placed perfectly on the album. I could imagine this one day being the song that closes the main part of the live set before they come back out for the encores. The first single from the album ‘Acuna’ immediately picks up the pace and might as well already be a Red Dirt standard with its mix of Rock, Country, and secret ingredient taking us down to the Mexican border to shoot out the lights and remember our younger days.
‘Compass Rose’ continues the uptempo pace with another song that lives in the head long after its over due to its powerful hook as we travel throughout Texas. Wade’s vocals really stand alone from comparisons to other performers in much the same way as Jason Isbell or Cody Canada. ‘Anchor’ shows how Wade is not afraid to push into new directions as he sings over the soft rumble of the drums with the guitar providing power by being used so selectively. The chorus again serving as a release for the tension that rises during the verses with the female vocals providing depth to the song as Wade unfolds the challenges of marriage. ‘Fell In Love On Whiskey’ stands at odds with much of the album as it is an uptempo song purely focused on fun. It would have been easy to ruin this song, and a Nashville mainstream artist may one day prove me correct. After the intense emotional depth of the majority of the songs, this one embraces the Rock and encourages the listener to give the brain a rest. ‘Calling All Demons’ closes the album in fire form and serves as another epic with a nearly 8 minute running time. It is easy to picture tumbleweeds blowing across the landscape during the acoustic intro which also features some excellent electric guitar work drawing out notes. With its huge chorus and power, this song makes a lasting impression on the listener.
Wade has commented in the past that he only wants to release albums when he has something to say, and he clearly had a lot on his mind here. This album will likely be one I consider a classic by him in a couple of years. I hesitate to promise that after only a month, but these songs continue to sink their teeth even deeper into me with each listen. Lindi Ortega will be the first up to see if she can top this album within these genres, but she has a difficult task in front of her. If you have never heard Wade before now, this album will serve as an excellent starting point.
‘Solid Ground’ is available now .
Website - http://www.wadebowen.com/
Review - Gerald Stansbury