Bluegrass has been a long served as a platform for artists to springboard to success in the country music arena. In addition to new traditionalists like Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Keith Whitley, and Ricky Skaggs, many other country artists dabbled in bluegrass early in their careers. Dierks Bentley and Kenny Chesney had a foot in bluegrass when they were just beginning their rise to fame.
Recently, bluegrassers have been utilized by country artists for their songwriting ability. One of Martina McBride’s recent singles, I’m Gonna Love You Through It, was co-written by Sonya Isaacs. Chris Stapleton is a magnificent example of this. He has written or co-written hits such as Never Wanted Nothing More (Kenny Chesney), Swing (Trace Adkins), and Your Man (Josh Turner), just to name a few.
One of the best examples of the bluegrass star turned country songster is Ronnie Bowman. He co-wrote the #1 hit Never Wanted Nothing More (Kenny Chesney) with Chris Stapleton. His song The Healing Kind appeared on Lee Ann Womack’s multi-platinum selling album I Hope You Dance. He has also enjoyed stints as a member of Lee Ann Womack’s band. As of late, he co-wrote the song The Journey of Your Life for Jake Owens.
Perhaps the most well-known Bowman-penned number in the country music world was a #1 hit for Brooks & Dunn in 2005, It’s Gettin’ Better All The Time. Kix Brooks says that “It’s Getting Better All the Time is one of the most heartfelt songs we’ve ever done,” and after first hearing Bowman’s demo tape, Ronnie Dunn remarked, “I know it’s a hit, but I don’t think I can sing it as good as that guy on the demo.”
Ronnie Bowman is a three-time IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year, two-time IBMA Song of the Year award winner (Cold Virginia Night and Three Rusty Nails), IBMA Gospel Performance of the Year award winner (Three Rusty Nails), and was a part of the Lonesome River Band’s Album of the Year, Carrying The Tradition. After a short stint with the Lost & Found, he was a member of one of the most powerful bluegrass bands throughout the nineties: The Lonesome River Band. He has also released a quartet of remarkable solo projects.
Of his four solo albums, the one bearing the namesake of his most well-known country hit is my favorite. It’s Gettin’ Better All The Time was released on the Koch Record Label back in 2005. I believe Koch was experiencing some changes in ownership at the time, which resulted in this album flying under many people’s radar.
All but three songs on the album are Bowman originals or ones he had a part in writing. The trio of exceptions are the classics Walkin’ The Dog and Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You) as well as Larry Rice’s Four Wheel Drive. Bowman’s version of Walkin’ The Dog is one of the grassiest cuts on the album, and is one of only four to feature a five-string. Having been done by everyone from Hot Rize to The Seldom Scene, Bowman’s version stacks up nicely against these cuts.
Old Flames was a hit for Dolly Parton, who celebrated a birthday yesterday (If you’re reading this Dolly, Happy Belated Birthday! I’ll be graciously accepting my thank you kiss next time I visit Dollywood.) Bowman’s beautiful rendition strikes right at the heart. His singing on songs such like this are why he has been a bluegrass heartthrob for over twenty years.
Four Wheel Drive is a catchy little tune written by Larry Rice. The instrumental work on this cut is stellar, particularly Wyatt Rice’s guitar work and Adam Steffey’s mandolin. This number flies, and will be stuck in your head for hours.
One of my favorites on the album is The Mountain. Bowman wrote the song from the perspective of a mountain, which gives it a unique twist. Telling tales of whippoorwills, moonshine, Native Americans, and more, this makes for a memorable tune about the Appalachian Mountains from whence our music originates.