Across five independent albums and a decade-plus of touring, Wade Bowen has amassed a string of regional hits and awards, and also a fan base who is passionate about music. 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. Wade’s baritone is dense and concentrated, with traces of whiskey and smoke and an autumnal warmth. Bowen takes command of his songs, cutting over the top of producer Justin Niebank’s sculpted guitar-scapes on his latest release “The Given.” 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.
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.
Try Not To Listen is the album Wade regards as his true debut, the project that kicked off a life and living made of 200-plus nights a year on the road and patient grassroots fan development. Then with Lost Hotel in 2006, things really began to click. The opening track “God Bless This Town” reached No. 1 on the bellwether Texas Music Chart, and to date, Bowen has had a total of 10 Number 1’s and 15 Top 5 Singles on the Texas Music Chart. He achieved another landmark in 2010, when he was invited to add his name to the roster of great artists who’ve made a Live At Billy Bob’s CD/DVD combo at the iconic club in Fort Worth.