Numerous bluegrass artists performing today got their start in the late 1980s and ’90s, helping to solidify the country-tinged mix of traditional and contemporary bluegrass that is so popular these days. One of these artists is Jimmy Bowen, who, after spending time with the Country Gentleman and David Parmley and Continental Divide, formed his own band, Santa Fe, in the late nineties. Bowen has recently released a collection of some of the most enjoyable tunes from his previous four releases, entitled The Sky is Weeping.
While Bowen is currently performing and recording both Americana and country style tunes as well, this collection is solidly bluegrass. Its twelve tracks come from several popular songwriters, including Harley Allen, John Pennell, and Gordon Lightfoot, all given a nice nineties feel and anchored by Bowen’s smooth, high lead vocals.
The album kicks off with the midtempo title track, a Randall Hylton composition about a man who seems to be at the end of his rope. The harmonies are well-done, and Bowen and guest Ron Stewart contribute tasteful mandolin and fiddle, respectively. Another enjoyable midtempo piece is Harley Allen’s well-written Wildwood Flower Blues, which speaks of a man who has encountered some hardships in life he didn’t expect.
Like Tony Rice and others, Bowen does a nice job of adapting a Gordon Lightfoot tune to the bluegrass style, this time with Early Morning Rain, which has been previously recorded by artists such as Elvis, Jerry Reed, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Bowen’s version is faster than most others, but the song’s lonesome feeling still comes through. Another cover of a popular tune is Seven Bridges Road, made famous by the Eagles. The sound of this version is fairly similar to the Eagles’ cut of the song, with the addition of an extended instrumental opening and closing.
Bowen also goes to the Eagles for Love Will Keep Us Alive, giving it a full bluegrass makeover. It’s one of the more driving songs here, quite unlike the laidback original version. The same kind of treatment is given to the Little River Band’s Lady, although it has more of a progressive feel. The old standard Darlin’ Corey has hints of the Seldom Scene, while Making Plans has more of a classic country sound.
Several different band lineups are featured on The Sky is Weeping, but the instrumental work and harmonies are solid throughout. In addition to Bowen (mandolin and vocals), Stewart (fiddle), John Pennell (bass and vocals), and Gary Reece (banjo and vocals) play on the majority of the tracks. Rick Briggs (banjo and vocals), Daniel Tousley (bass), Daniel Edmonds, Daniel Dingledein, and Ron Lane (guitar and vocals) are also included.
With this album, Bowen reminds listeners that he and his bandmates have a firm grasp on the modern traditional sound. It would certainly be nice to see some new material from the group, but fans of Bowen’s previous albums, as well as those who like the nineties sound, should enjoy this one nonetheless.
For more information on Jimmy Bowen and Santa Fe, visit Bowen’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jimmybowenfanpage. The Sky is Weeping can be purchased from Amazon and several other online music retailers.