Song Review: Wade Bowen – “When I Woke Up Today”

My go-to description for Wade Bowen’s style is “cerebral.” You can tell from his lyrics that he observes the world from a deeper perspective than most. His music doesn’t typically drag you in by the collar on the first listen, but there comes a moment when it just clicks. The lead single from his forthcoming independent record is no exception.

The arrangement on “When I Woke Up Today” is pretty standard for Bowen, as are his vocals. It’s probably most similar to “Patch of Bad Weather,” though not as heavy. He has a special talent for taking pensive songs like this one and setting them to ear-pleasing melodies. My one major nit to pick is that the guitar riff gets annoying by the end of the first chorus. Some may find it catchy, but I think it’s repetitive and overpowering.

The real strength of the song is the lyrics, which combine senses of introspection, gratitude, hope, and inspiration. It’s an open look into the mind of a road-weary performer who is working his tail off to “make a dream fly.” At the same time, he’s aware that everyone else is dealing with their own stream of triumphs and struggles. All he can do is “[take] the good and the bad with a big smile.”

Wade Bowen’s transition to an independent label doesn’t seem to have dramatically changed his style. He’s suggested that, if anything, the new album will be even more raw and gritty. While this isn’t one of his strongest singles, it’s an indication that we have something to look forward to this October.

Rating: 3.75 / 5

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Song Review: Josh Abbott Band – “Hangin’ Around”

Texas music critics can be admittedly purist to a fault. It’s healthy to be a little protective of our artists and call them out for straying too far into pop country territory, but frequently crying “sellout” makes us no better than those snobby hipsters. Having said that, I’m not about to defend the latest single from the Josh Abbott Band. Here goes Country on Congress’ inaugural negative review!

Let’s start by acknowledging that “Hangin’ Around” is just one song, and it has legitimately country elements. What makes it disappointing is its stunning simplicity. Is Josh Abbott secretly collaborating with Dallas Davidson? Is this song being pitched to Music Row in Nashville for radio play? Did he learn nothing from his buddy Pat Green?

Not every song has to have heavy subject matter. There’s a time and a place for catchy, lighthearted tunes like “Hangin’ Around,” but they aren’t the reason Abbott has ascended to the top tier of Texas country artists. I honestly feel less intelligent after listening to it a few times on a loop. Check out this bit of the chorus, which is lazily rattled off until the song’s abrupt ending before the 3-minute mark.

I’m hangin’ around if you’re hangin’ around
If you’re stayin’ at home, if you’re paintin’ the town
If you wanna talk, you can give me a call
Or if you really don’t feel like talkin’ at all
If you’re drinkin’ a beer, I’m drinkin’ a beer

Yikes. I didn’t expect to be this worried about what the next album will bring. Is a little substance too much to ask? Here’s hoping they don’t pull an Eli Young Band by trying to outgrow the Red Dirt scene.

Rating: 1.5 / 5

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Song Review: Stoney LaRue – “First One to Know”

Stoney LaRue and his trademark bandana have been one of the biggest draws in the Texas scene since his 2005 debut, but I never really understood why until I saw him live in 2011. A friend and I went to Floore’s Country Store to see Granger Smith (Pre-Earl Dibbles Jr. fame) open, and we stuck around for Stoney LaRue & The Arsenals because we had nothing better to do and liked “Oklahoma Breakdown.” Turns out they put on a hell of a show, while Granger does better work in the studio.

Stoney’s 2011 release Velvet had a couple of radio-friendly singles (“Velvet” and “Look at Me Fly”), but now that I’ve seen him live on three occasions, I can assure you those are on a different level in person. All of this is to say he finally struck studio gold with his latest track, “First One to Know.”

The arrangement is stripped down and Stoney’s vocal delivery is uncharacteristically understated. What makes the structure especially intriguing is its reliance on tempo changes rather than crescendo to bridge each section. I have to admit it took me a few listens to process this and recognize it as the stroke of genius it is. If you pay attention to the lyrics, this all makes perfect sense.

If I’m not acting like myself lately, doing things that I don’t
Not sure why, but you want to hate me, it’s just a spell I suppose
When I’m back to my old self again, my love
You’ll be the first one to know

The song is a very reflective and honest admission of one’s straying from the path of righteousness. It acknowledges the reality that people change as they get older, but entertains the possibility of turning over a new leaf. That sense of humble confidence pairs well with the soft combination of acoustic guitar, brushed snare, piano, harmonica, and a subtle tambourine. “First One to Know” makes it hard to wait for the full album due at the end of October.

Rating: 4.75 / 5

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