The name Ronnie Bowman needs little introduction in bluegrass circles. From his work with the Lost and Found, to his role as part of a quintessential version of the Lonesome River Band, to more recent solo work and recordings with the Band of Ruhks, Bowman has certainly left his mark on bluegrass music – and that’s not even mentioning his stellar songwriting that has earned hits for both country and bluegrass artists. His latest album, a self-titled record from Englehardt Music Group, features plenty of the smooth, modern traditional grass that Bowman is known for, including his takes on a number of classic bluegrass songs and a handful of new cuts.
The album’s first single should be familiar to any bluegrass fan worth their salt. A faithful version of the Jimmy Martin classic, Hit Parade of Love, features fine picking from a who’s who of musicians, including tasty banjo from Scott Vestal and some great G-runs from Wyatt Rice on guitar. It’s got plenty of energy (though maybe not quite as much as Martin – but then again, who could?) and is sure to satisfy traditional fans. Also on the strongly traditional side of things are an excellent, tight cut of Love of the Mountains, on which Bowman’s vocals really shine, and a fine Truck Driver’s Queen, with nice harmonies on the chorus. Sure, these songs are often jam standards, but it’s always great to hear them sung with Bowman’s vocal prowess and performed by the caliber of musicians backing him.
It’s hard to match the Country Gentlemen’s Matterhorn, but Bowman gives it his all here, creating a pensive, desperate vibe with near-perfect instrumentation. He’s joined by Chris Stapleton for a rough-edged Gonna Be Raining When I Die. It’s a great update of the Osborne Brothers classic, filled with drive and a bluesy undertone. If this one’s not on the radio yet, it should be. Alabam, on the other hand, has been on the radio and made quite a splash, with its guest vocalists Bobby Bare and Del McCoury. It’s a fun romp through the old Cowboy Copas song that was surely a joy to record, with McCoury’s verse in particular adding a little extra zing.
The newer songs on the album, mostly Bowman co-writes, are more of what listeners might expect from a Bowman album – softer and country-tinged. I’d Rather Be A Memory, the album’s current single, is a well-written look into a failing relationship from Bowman, Buddy Cannon, and Larry Bastian. Gentle fiddle and mandolin accompany clever lines such as “If I could turn this pencil over and erase the hurt you said, you’d find me coming running back to you, but I’d rather be a memory than a fool.” A bit of reconfiguring the sound, and this one could easily be a country hit, as well. You Cut the Ties, co-written by Bowman, Dean Dillon, and Ted Walker, tugs at the heartstrings with its depiction of a father-son relationship that slowly falls apart over the years. It’ll make you grab the phone to call your parents, if you’re lucky enough to still have them in your life. Hey Lord It’s Me, penned by Bowman and Don Cook, is also touching and poignant, with the singer pausing for a moment to thank God for His blessings.
Bowman is surely one of bluegrass music’s most talented artists and songwriters, and he’s shown up in full force on this album. It’s great to hear him cutting some fine traditional favorites, and the originals are enjoyable and well-written. It might have been nice to have a bit more balance to the album, or even to have released separate albums or EPs – one with the rip-roaring classics, and one with the more acoustic country sounds of his originals. All in all, though, it’s a really strong record and it’s great to have new music from Bowman.
For more information on Ronnie Bowman, visit his website. His new album is available from several online retailers.