Wade Bowen

In the fall of 2010, thirteen years to the day after launching his career at Stubb's Barbecue in Lubbock, Texas, Wade Bowen started recording this self-titled album, his first for a major country label. Those years had seen Bowen rise from collegiate greenhorn to the top of the Texas music and Red Dirt circuit. His colleagues and friends the Randy Rogers Band, Pat Green, Jack Ingram, Eli Young Band, Cross Canadian Ragweed and others had already made the major label leap, helping to take a vibrant regional sound to the rest of America. Now it's Wade Bowen's turn to bring some Red Dirt and independent spirit to country music at large.

This isn't a debut, more like a fresh start on a bigger stage. Working with Justin Niebank, a master mixing engineer and Vince Gill's producer of recent years, Bowen cut new versions of four of his most popular songs along with seven new tunes that reflect his evolving vision as a songwriter. Longtime fans (and there are quite a few of them) will hear the Bowen they've known and the next steps on his journey. They'll get better acquainted with the ballad singer who doesn't often get a chance to show himself in honky tonks. Newcomers will hear a head-turning country artist with range, road-tested hits and one of the best male voices in the business.

That voice truly jumps out of these 11 tracks. Wade's baritone is dense and concentrated, with traces of whisky and smoke and an autumnal warmth. Bowen takes command of his songs, cutting over the top of Niebank's sculpted guitar-scapes. The sound is one hundred percent country, rife with pedal steel and vivid emotion, but it's also music could easily find a home with fans of Bowen's non-country idols - folks like Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne. Take a few passes through this project and you'll hearing a singer's singer and a focused songwriter who's adding layers to his music all the time.

"All this work and the care we've taken with this album just falls in the category of trying to get better," says Bowen. "When it comes to my intent as a musician, I've not changed anything since day one. I've only tried to mature and tried to get better, and I think this record is representative of that." On a live circuit where the overwhelming mandate is to stir up a party, Bowen has aimed to leave folks with a memory. As a writer, even one from a state with some tall literary traditions, he's not trying to earn a PhD in poetry; he's trying to communicate. "My style," he says, "is more to try to evoke an emotion. I'm more about trying to leave a mark on people."

Growing up in Waco, Bowen's exposure to the music of Texas was limited to whatever made it on FM country radio. George Strait was king. Guy Clark was a name he'd not have recognized before getting to college. There, in Lubbock, he discovered the iceberg below the surface, starting with Robert Earl Keen. "He was a big changing point in my life," says Wade. "I realized by listening to him that there was way more out there than I ever knew. So I started getting into Guy Clark and other great Texas music. But I was obsessed with Robert Earl. When we started the band we were sort of a Robert Earl cover band."

That band was called West 84, and they found that with their large posse of friends who'd always show up for a good time, it was easy to land gigs. Bowen meanwhile began to channel a life-long love of writing into songs, and when college ended he made two major decisions. He took on the role of solo artist under his own name, and he moved to Austin. By then, about 2001, fellow Waco native Pat Green had busted out to national prominence and the Texas music phenomenon was the buzz of Nashville. It was part of Wade Bowen's inspiration to charge ahead.

Try Not To Listen is the album Wade regards as his true debut, the project that kicked off a life and living made of 200-plus nights a year on the road and patient grassroots fan development. Then with Lost Hotel in 2006, things really began to click. The opening track "God Bless This Town" reached No. 1 on the bellwether Texas Music Chart, and over the next six years, he released six more chart-toppers and three additional top fives. He achieved another landmark when he was invited to add his name to the roster of great artists who've made a Live At Billy Bob's CD/DVD combo at the iconic club in Fort Worth. With a decade that good, it was inevitable that Music Row would become interested.

The origins of Bowen's new record deal can be traced to his music publisher, Sea Gayle Music. It's where Brad Paisley, Radney Foster, Jerrod Niemann, Chris Stapleton and other do their songwriting, and in 2010, it was the first indie company to be named ASCAP Country Publisher of the Year since 1982. Sea Gayle has a track record of investing in artists and helping them reach their potential, and that's how they've worked with Bowen, ultimately backing this album and introducing its independently made sound to Sony Music. Step one in that process was to find a producer who could preserve Wade's vision yet find the sweet spot that would help his music have its best chance at country radio. "Of all the producers we talked to, Justin Niebank was the only one who said 'I need to come down and see you live,'" says Bowen. "Well after 13 years of doing this I'd hope someone would want to see what we do, why we have fans. He totally got it and based the whole sound of this record around that."

That live immediacy certainly throbs on "Saturday Night," which tracks the internal monologue of a lonesome hombre sitting on his stool, nursing his drink and thinking about "that sad goodbye." As the album's first single, its chiming descending guitar riff will be the first thing many audiences will hear from Wade, his calling card. Also likely to grab listeners early is "Patch Of Bad Weather," a brisk, rocking take-down of a treacherous lover. It paints dramatic pictures of a stormy Texas landscape and it kicks like a gun.

Bowen has also taken advantage of his recent songwriting sessions and the comfortable studio environment fostered by Niebank to develop his love of ballad singing and the emotional side of country music. "All That's Left" brings strings into the mix, and it works. Bowen sounds at home. In "Say Anything," a guy can't think of a thing to say to a girl he's just met except gush on about the one he let get away, so he shuts up and listens. Its chorus will surely make some leading male country singers wish they'd been given a shot at the song. "I love those songs like that. Sad ballads," says Bowen with an apologetic shrug. "That's where my passion is. 'Say Anything' is one of my favorite tracks on the record."

Bowen was extremely pleased that the offer of a deal from Sony's BNA Records included an invitation to re-work his best material. "It was a huge opportunity to make these four songs a little better," he says. "We've played them lives for a long time, and we learned from that. We changed some tempos and tried to animate them a little bit. We created more dynamics and more signature hooks. That's stuff Justin has taught me as a producer."

Among these, "God Bless This Town" is probably the closest Bowen has so far to a greatest hit. A Texas No. 1 in 2006 and a popular music video with tons of CMT and GAC play, it's got stories layered in its stories and its characters feel familiar and alive. The narrator is torn between cynicism and attachment, and the song is all the more affecting because of it. The new version has a clean, coiled energy that ought to propel it into the hearts of a new wave of fans. Also re-worked is the smoldering "Trouble" and a breezy song written by Paul Thorn called "Mood Ring" that uses a dime-store novelty as a device to get the narrator to reveal his conflicted feelings.

Now one last note, because Bowen knows it's going to be interesting to roll out a "Nashville" album to his fans. A contingent of them have preemptively made it known that they live in mortal fear of Bowen being eaten by the Music Row machine. Yes, Wade did record this project in Nashville, with Nashville session players. But study those previous albums, and you'll see that's exactly where and how he's made them all. Bowen's been making regular writing trips for years as well, working with an expanding circle of masters and taking advantage of the town's expertise and experience. Wade will tell anyone who has a low opinion of Music City that for him, it's the home of Guy Clark and Todd Snider and Rodney Crowell, of the greatest guitarists on Earth, the finest studios and producers.

And of course Nashville was the origin of those radio dreams instilled when Wade was growing up in Texas and hearing country legends on his FM radio. The calling he felt was toward authentic music that reaches people, and that's not unique to Austin, Lubbock, Waco or Nashville for that matter. It lives in the heart and the work of the artist, and those who've believed in Wade Bowen all along will find in this album and the many albums and tours to follow, plenty more reasons to keep the faith.

The Dirty River Boys

The Dirty River Boys are paving their own road as they travel it. They are a testament to the idea that "if you can dream it, you can do it," moving with determination ever closer to the light. Above all is their belief in their music. It motivates them and provides exultation for each member, as well as for the audiences who have become fans by the force field the band creates in live performance.
Steely intention aside, there is a magic to being in the right place with the right stuff at the right time. Home in El Paso, the Dirty River Boys yearned to make music the centerpiece of their lives. Then they played their very first Austin gig, a happy hour set at hipster haunt, Lustre Pearl. The music they presented was energetic and infectious, though stripped down acoustic. The joy was unmistakable. And a new path with exciting possibilities was being born. The band migrated to Austin shortly thereafter, where they thrive amidst the other musicians in town, and love the strong sense of community they found. "Being in Austin, with so many great bands, it makes you up your game."
Travis Stearns and Nino Cooper met in the music scene in El Paso. They started gigging every once in a while, while they waited patiently for the day they could dedicate themselves to music 24/7. The Dirty River Boys trio formed 3 years ago, when Marco Gutierrez quit his job and school to join the band. "We had to go against full bands in El Paso, us with three people with acoustic instruments. It shows if you are consistent and serious about your music, you can really make it. We put our hearts out there every night. People see that." They added an upright bass player about a year and a half ago. Colton James joined for a 90 minute set at the River Road Icehouse. It was a trial by fire and a foursome was forged.
The new album, Science Of Flight, was recorded at Yellow Dog Studio in South Austin, Texas. Marco, Nino, Travis and CJ put aside just five days for the process. They played everything on the album themselves, only tapping on the legendary Kim Deschamps to lay down pedal steel. Expect surprises; Wurlitzer, marching drum sounds, train whistles, a rattlesnake. The band was mindful of their ability to recreate the sounds on stage in the live environment. The Dirty River Boys are seemingly always on the road, having logged 200,000 miles in the van, though thankfully, the rattlesnake is not a traveling companion.
Science of Flight has been described by The Dirty River Boys as Western, Fat, and Rock and Roll. It touches on myriad emotions with gentle harmonies that shimmer with beauty, acoustic rave-ups, and hook driven tunes. "This time, we made a record. We build it, recording the parts ourselves. This is a band record. We are really excited about it."

Javi Garcia

avi Garcia—La Reconquista
There’s a young man coming round, and he’s armed for bear.

From Steve Earle’s You Know the Rest:
“Davey Crockett went out to Texas
To fight at the Alamo
Old Will Travis never told him
Texas is in Mexico
It’s a bloody mess
You know the rest”

I was a bit put off when I removed the disc from the cover and saw a caricature of the devil grinning up at me. I’m no fan of that bastard. Matter of fact I detest everything he stands for. But it didn’t take more than a few seconds for the first song on the disc to grab my attention. An interesting voice and well played music snapped my head to full alert; hard hitting lyrics, truth, anger, passion, all the stuff that separates real songs from the rest, kept me listening to the end. By the third pass, I was singing along with the record.

The sound is more rock than country, but decidedly Texan and Americana in theme. I hear shades of Ryan Bingham and a young Steve Earle before they got bought, but perhaps even more pissed off than either ever was. That’s OK with me: if you ain’t pissed off, you ain’t paying attention. There’s a song that could be Rolling Stones. Echoes of Chris Knight on another. Still another that sounds like blue grass. Javi Garcia is no one trick pony.

As for the devil: there’s entirely too much truth in Javi’s work for all of his inspiration to originate from the dark side. Been my experience more often than not that real evil comes cloaked in fine threads and false smiles, or uniforms of the state, perhaps draped in crosses and other religious garb, in a man with pen in hand, a contract in the other, reeking of cologne, lies sliding off lips like butter and honey, or painted eyes and thick perfume, or perhaps black riot gear and baklavas that hide the faces of our legal assassins….


Javi arrives in a small economy car. He’s barrel-chested, light skinned with a mop of unruly dark hair and intelligent brown eyes. Tattoos cover his hands, arms and the part of his chest that his long sleeved shirt doesn’t hide. It doesn’t take long for me to see that Javi isn’t the hoodlum or the killer or the dope head that appears in his songs. And he’s a long way from some sort of devil worshipper too. To be honest, he’s polite, well-mannered and pleasant.

He was raised near the Rio Grande River in Weslaco, Texas. Javier describes Weslaco as a hard place where half the people there don’t give a shit about anything, including themselves: a place brimming with citrus, drugs, hate, and sweltering heat.

He’s the product of a broken marriage. His dad is a cop and has been married a number of times. Javi never knew his paternal grandfather, but when he did meet the man he learned he had been a musician. When his granddad found out Javi was also a musician, he suggested that he should quit. Thanks for the support, grandpa.

Javi describes more than a normal share of his mother’s side of the family as criminals, murderers, drunks and other types to bad to be discussed even in Weslaco. He never knew his maternal grandfather, but knows that he too was a musician and played the accordion. A stepgrandfather Javi did know was murdered shortly after Javi’s parents divorced: machine gunned to death in Rio Grande city, his body then burned in his own van. The killers weren’t found.

At some point in Javi’s young life, he found himself homeless in his own hometown, sleeping on borrowed couches, working in a bar, saving money so he could get out of town. The day came when Javi sold all his possessions and headed for San Antonio. He arrived with no car, no guitar, just a bag of clothes and a dream. He took a job answering phones and got fired for being rude to some lady.

San Antonio seemed too much like Weslaco for Javi so he struck out for New Braunfels, hoping to make it in the music business. Getting gigs proved difficult, but Javi persisted. He wrote songs, played where he could and saved money to make a record. Roel Piña, an uncle, kicked in additional money and Javi bought five days of studio time. The resulting double CD, A Southern Horror, Madly in Anger, is recorded live with minimal post production work. Javier produced the discs himself because he didn’t want to compromise his vision and couldn’t afford to pay someone else to produce the record anyway. Not many of the songs will be suitable for radio play due to cuss words.

Javi Garcia has recorded a journey through and from the borderlands, a place that has produced few successful musicians, a place whose residents are ignored and marginalized by the countries both to the north and the south; a place where having a real job is the exception to the rule, particularly for those of younger generations. The pictures Javi paints aren’t pretty. I’d call them dark as hell. But with A Southern Horror Javi has written, played, sung and produced exactly the record he wanted to make. Some will love it. Others will hate it. Few will fall between those extremes. Any that dare listen will be moved. I think his is a voice that needs to be heard. For the record, I fall firmly into the love it camp. This one will make my best of the year list, without doubt. Already has.

Javi sings most of his songs in first person, some obviously borrowed from the lives of others. He opens with a young man singing to his mom, telling her he’ll kill her piece of shit abusive husband. Before the song is over, the blood of her abuser mixes with the water of the Comal County River. Then we learn that same blood flows through Javi’s veins; her abuser is his dad, and the deed never took place outside of some dream, for Javi was a kid while all this took place. The songs get darker. A vet of the Mid East war appears, a vet that went to war not to defend God and country but instead in a futile attempt to feed his family after the job in Cameron County went away in this goddamned thing they call a global economy. The man now lies near a bed pan lamenting the days before he went to war and left his legs buried in desert sand. In yet offering another Javi places himself into the blue garb of a cop, one bloodstained hand tilting the scales of justice, the other bearing the weight of a loaded gun.

Anger and the pain of failed relationships rip and tear through other songs; misguided forays into booze and drugs rear sneering heads as Javi strains for relief but finds none. The anger of rejection Javi has encountered is laced throughout the work. The music business is tough for a good ol’ white boy, tougher yet for those of Mexican extraction.

Javi has had a rough go so far. The end of his story remains unwritten. I’m reminded of Steve Earle’s Unrepentant, as a young man picks up his weapon and hits the road, headed toward a collision with the devil, only in Javi’s case, his weapon is a guitar and a handful of true words. The gauntlet waits. Fire, blood, brimstone. Anger, fear, prejudice, hatred of the truth. Curses will fly. Bodies will fall. His will be no fairy tale where everyone walks away and lives happily ever after. But it’ll be undeniably real. And not less than a bit scary. True southern horror, you might say.

Buena suerte, Javier Garcia, Jr.

May God have mercy on us.

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