The two opening tracks of Wade Bowen's new, eponymous album, "When I Woke Up Today" and "The Sun Shines on a Dreamer," are practically bursting with optimism and energy. If he harbored any sadness about leaving his major-label record deal behind in favor of the indie route, it's certainly not evident here. That one-two combination starts the album off with a bang, and the rest of the songs that follow do not disappoint.
"Wade Bowen" is undeniably country, though it's hardly a traditional, steel-drenched affair. Rather, it's an extremely diverse and contemporary album that pulls in touches of rock and pop. "Hungover" is a mature, mournful tune about the end of a relationship, and "Sweet Leona" is a pretty ode to an unrequited love. Either one would fit in very well on mainstream country radio, but Bowen doesn't settle for the easy way out - the narrator is stone-cold sober on "Hungover," while the object of his affection in "Sweet Leona" doesn't even get asked on a date, much less taken down to the creek in his pickup. At the other end of the spectrum, "When Its Reckless" is a hard-driving, guitar-blaring rocker.
"Honky Tonk Road" gets the Texas Red Dirt All-Star treatment, with guest vocals from Sean McConnell, Cody Canada and Randy Rogers. Even with Bowen's growing name recognition outside of his home state, this song makes it clear that he hasn't strayed so far from his roots, and the foursome make it a light-hearted good time.
If the stereotype is that Red Dirt music is hard-core country that is somehow "purer" than the Nashville equivalent, than Bowen's album may be seen as surprisingly slick. His songwriting abilities (he had a hand in 10 of 12 songs, writing with the likes of Will Hoge, Lori McKenna, Rodney Clawson and Brian Wright) keep the album filler-free, and Bowen never lets the pop or rock touches overwhelm the country feel of the songs.
The story of his major label status and return to his indie roots make for an interesting story, but what matters is the quality of the music, not the size of the record company releasing it. "Wade Bowen" is a quality album.