Wade Bowen - Flyin'

Thirty Tigers


With his tenth studio album, Wade Bowen takes a rugged and sometimes rowdy approach to his craft, and the result is a series of songs that are anthemic in tone, and uplifting. He punches way above his weight in the Americana-country stakes, with one dusty booted foot placed firmly in the door to the rock side of the border. The straightforward barroom tunes and geographic origins might have created early touchpoints, but in the nearly 25 years since he set out on his musical journey, criss-crossing Texas and the south-west honky-tonk and dancehall circuit, he has injected a free-wheeling nonchalance into the mix that’s kept his catalogue as impressive as ever. What’s most striking on this rich, satisfying album, is Wade’s continuing growth as a songwriter, especially on the storytelling side. Things get real on his records. Against a backdrop of a honky-tonk and the cast of characters who come and go and sometimes stay a bit too long, he entices you into his world. But as in any good honky-tonk, the people in the world he creates, come from all walks of life and wear all kinds of hats, both literally and metaphorically. And his songs, much like the stories a honky-tonk bartender might hear, range from the uplifting to the touching. Even when they’re fictional, though, they tend to be something very real.

FLYIN’ is a tributary that flows from artists such as Clint Black, Joe Ely, the Eagles, ZZ Top, Springsteen, to George (Jones and Strait) and the mighty Hag. The opening title song is a careening sense of abandon that courses through a bold, colourful outing, one that spins his rockin’ country leanings in a fresh way. Fusing emotional heft with brisk musicality, this is a song that sounds equally as good on a road trip with the window down as it does in a crowded dancehall, stomping and hollering along. It does exactly what track one on an album needs to do: it reeled me in, and I was glued to my listening post right through to Hidin’ Behind The Microphone, the final song. This acoustic ballad is born from a life well lived as Wade turns life on the road on its head. At his most intimate and personal, he paints a despairing portrait of the insecurities, loneliness, and weariness of a touring musician, showing that it’s not all good times, as often he’d find himself putting on a painted smile to sing and perform, night after night, for his dedicated fans.

He pays homage to his home state with Nothin’ But Texas, a scrappy funky workout. He’s especially wiggly on this one, cranking out a hip-shakin’, foot-tapping rhythm that lifts your spirits and makes you want to help him celebrate by singing along. Introduced by a short narration by former Dallas Cowboys football legend Troy Aikman, Friday Night, portrays the life of high school football players and the joys of partying away in a barroom, chasing girls and letting their hair down after a week of part-time work to fuel their passion for the game. But this is an album of two halves. Snuggled in-between these up-tempo, good-time tunes are poignant heartbreak songs and love ballads. Accompanied by simple acoustic guitar, Mary Jane, a co-write by Chase Bryant and Jon Randall, features Wade’s most plaintively pleading voice, as he tries to pick-up a barroom beauty. Rather than wanting to take her home for a one-night stand, all he wants to do is to sweep her off her feet and dance. Two Hurts One Stoned is a tender and somewhat sombre track telling of a lonely man drowning his sorrows after too many lies, too many drinks, too many hangovers that have left two broken hearts in their wake. He is joined by Hillary Lindsey for When I Want To be Wanted, a classic cheating country duet. Recalling those Conway-Loretta and Porter-Dolly duets, this steel-driven saga of the age-old love tryst triangle between the beauty behind the bar, the wayward husband and the faithful wife stuck at home, is a good slice of old-style country that still sounds relevant today. In similar style is The Request, in which a lonely woman asks the singer to ‘play me a heartbreak I can dance to, to keep me off that barstool.’ For a trad country fan like me, this stuff is just timeless magic.

Whether singing about characters on the move, or willfully and sometimes unexpectedly, embroiled in romantic entanglements, Wade Bowen imbues his stories with grace and humanity. With such a solid set of songs, his effortless, yet passionate, vocals and his band’s playing style are that much more of a joy to listen to. In summation. FLYIN’ reflects Wade Bowen’s essential contributions to Texas music and even suggests a positive move forward in his already storied career.


May 2024