The career of Texas country star Wade Bowen has taken him all over the state, from Waco, where he is from; to Lubbock, where he attended college; to Austin, where he cut his teeth gigging for rent money; to the dancehalls of New Braunfels, where he further established his brand of country music; and further all over the state touring and playing shows.
Wade Bowen at the Devil's Backbone 2017.Cambria Harkey
With "Solid Ground," Bowen’s seventh solo studio album, he takes all of the musical influences of his career and his home state and charts a course for the listener.
"Sonically, we really set out to make it a concept album without it really being a concept album," Bowen said in a phone interview. "We wanted it to be a musical journey that showcased all of Texas’ music scenes in one album."
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The album, out Feb. 9, effortlessly weaves through Red Dirt, country, mariachi, Tejano and rock ‘n’ roll without missing a beat. Bowen wrote or co-wrote 10 out of 11 songs here, and it shows. Each of the songs here reference a town or a time relevant to Bowen’s life. This is an intensely personal album about a state that’s bigger than all of us that used to be home to a music scene of a bygone era.
"I really wanted to show pride in where I’m from, just that melting pot of Texas sounds," Bowen said.
Part of that pride showcased here is Bowen’s pride in his history playing Texas’ dancehall circuit.
"[The song] ‘Acuña’ was about how all of the dancehalls are a dying breed, especially some of the ones I came up in. Places like Saengerhalle, that was my home away from home when I first lived in New Braunfels. My wife worked there as a bartender. I was there pretty much every Wednesday night, so it was sad to see it go.
"Hopefully people will still like the dance halls and will continue to go to the ones that are still open, like Coupland [Texas Dance Hall], Gruene Hall, places like that."
"Acuña," and other songs like "7:30" and "So Long 6th Street," deal in a wistful nostalgia: "Everything is different/Everything is changed, I must have been a fool to think that things would stay the same. The only thing that’s certain/Is this old world keeps turning and you realize you’ve been left behind," Bowen sings on "7:30."
And "So Long 6th Street," Bowen’s nostalgic ode to his time spent early in his career on one of Austin’s most famous locations, gets some assists from Jack Ingram and Miranda Lambert.
"I love working with both of them, and any time I get to work with either of them, it’s always a fun time," Bowen said. Bowen wrote the song with producer Keith Gattis, with some vocal help from Ingram and Lambert.
Watch Miranda Lambert and Wade Bowen perform a George Strait song in New Braunfels
"It almost has like an anthem feel to it, which Jack, Miranda and I all loved. It took me back to that time when I had just moved to Austin, fresh out of college begging for gigs. I kind of look at that as the pinnacle of my career, back when I was just playing every chance I could get and living in my apartment for maybe four or five nights a week."
The song also looks back at the way Austin’s music and party district has changed: "So long, Antone’s, it’s you I’ll miss the most/I’ve stumbled home from your arms how many times, I just don’t know."
The rest of the album deals with loss, regret and looking back — themes that aren’t unfamiliar in Bowen’s body of work. The closing track, "Calling All Demons," is a nearly-8-minute sprawling desert setpiece about giving into and your worst tendencies. The ending is some of Bowen’s most adventerous instrumentals recorded on a studio album.
Bowen’s longtime "Hold My Beer" buddy Randy Rogers doesn’t appear on this album. but another "Hold My Beer" is on the horizon, Bowen says.
"We’ve talked a lot about a ‘Hold My Beer Vol. 2,’ and we actually booked some stuff and had to back out because it’s just kind of tough dealing with everyone’s schedules. But there will be a ‘Vol. 2,’ I promise."
"Solid Ground" is available Feb. 9. Wade Bowen will play the Mohawk on Friday, Feb. 23. Get your tickets here.