Country Jukebox Jury LP: Wade Bowen – Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth

Everyone who presents a radio show which plays music from Texas and Oklahoma (oh, just me?) knows about Wade Bowen. He’s one of the guys who can sell out venues in Texas and be invited to promote a new album at the Grand Ole Opry. He teamed up with fellow Red Dirt bloke Randy Rogers for two recent sets, winning the Best Duo/Group at the Texas Regional Radio Music Awards this year. Wade follows Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jerry Jeff Walker and Guy Clark as a North star for other musicians from Texas.

It seems a gross oversight that the lay country fan doesn’t know Wade or his music, given that he’s been going for two decades and released his eleventh studio album this summer on his Bowen Sounds imprint, with distribution from the great indie Thirty Tigers. He is an automatic regular on Texas radio, with his pleasant new single Everything Has Your Memory rising fast. It was written with Heather Morgan and Eric Paslay and kicks off this album with aplomb, and will appeal to people outside the Red Dirt scene much as the music of Randall King, Parker McCollum and Cody Johnson does.

Plenty of writers linked to Luke Combs are between the brackets in the credits Randy Montana, who is hot right now, co-writes the lightly smouldering Burnin’ Both Ends of the Bar, which is a heartbreak song about spotting an ex, and Hony Tonk Roll, which actually uses the line ‘burning both ends of the bar’ to refer to the way Wade’s narrator is out on the town. Ray Fulcher had a hand in If You Don’t Miss Me (‘when you’re gone’), a breakup song where Wade tells his beloved to find out what she wants in her life. It’s a very grown-up song and would have fitted into Ray’s recent album.

Away from the bars, Wade tells us The Secret to This Town, with all its characters contributing to the ‘amazing grace’ of a small town. It’s very country and very American, with all the sport that goes on, and Wade’s production is equally warm. There’s a lot of Travis Tritt or Brad Paisley (especially his song Wrapped Around) on the fab She’s Driving Me Crazy.

Knowing Me Like I Do, which sounds like a smash, is full of self-examination to match the meditative chord progressions and will chime with many listeners. That song’s co-writer Clint Ingersoll has also written with Chris Stapleton, whose voice hits the same notes as Wade’s but with more rasp and hollering. Say Goodbye (with uncredited backing vocals from Heather Morgan) and It’s Gonna Hurt are two more ‘tear in the beer’ tune about the effects of a breakup, with the latter adopting the old country trick of adding pedal steel and a snare rim backbeat.

Talking of country music, Vince Gill appears on A Guitar, A Singer and A Song, one of three tracks written by Lori McKenna, who knows a great songwriter when she writes with one. Songs about songs are one of my favourite genres, and I like the line ‘the song’s singing you’ which precedes the entry of Vince on buttery harmonies.

Lori appears on A Beautiful World. You can tell that she wrote it from its soft acoustic backing and rich imagery: rain on a sunny day, ‘being young in summertime’, handwritten letters and, brilliantly, saying ‘I love you’ for both the first and last time. It’s another Humble and Kind from the kind, humble Lori. She also co-wrote the album’s title track, a love song with a fine structure which rounds off the album. ‘There’s a choice you make that you just can’t undo’ is sage advice to a listener to know the one they really love. It made me go ‘ooh’ at the end because I appreciate the songcraft.

I like everything about this album, one of the best released in 2022, and I hope that you will find something you like too.

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