Then Sings My Soul … Songs for My Mother
Wade Bowen typically skates along musical edges with a rock sound, some folk insight and a clear country soul. Then Sings My Soul… Songs for My Mother, a collection of beloved gospel classics Bowen originally recorded as a Christmas gift to his mother, amplifies his burning spirit and ability to blend adored tradition with the broad vision of a modern artist. Co-produced with Sean McConnell, no stranger to musical spirituality, the record features time-honored sounds of a rural sanctuary expertly joined with electric flourishes in just the right amount of measure.
Bowen picked the songs with the help of his uncles, who knew which classics his mother would want to hear her son sing. For the most part, the album features hymns that are likely recognizable to any fan of roots and classic country music, regardless of religious persuasion. With some of the tunes boasting an age of over a century, Bowen could’ve easily, and acceptably, stuck to the most basic, spare piano accompaniments. But each song, with the memorable melodies intact, feels faithful without seeming stale. Songs such as “Amazing Grace” and “Softly and Tenderly” are driven by piano play that’s soulful rather than simply slow. One of history’s most-recorded songs, “I’ll Fly Away,” is a gently galloping, bluegrass-inflected front porch stomper in Bowen’s hands, while “Just Over in the Gloryland” is a choir-infused funk-soul celebration worthy of its hopeful message of eternal happiness. Bob Dylan’s barn-burning, Jesus-praising gem “Saved” is the album’s most obviously current song, yet is still vividly retro with a spot-on Southern rock recklessness that would be comfortably at home under a revival-intensive big-top (snake-handling optional).
In each arrangement, the more updated touches, such as deftly employed electric guitar and a robust organ, are used to lift up the resplendent melodies these tunes are built upon. Similar to Willie Nelson, another singing Texan who has produced glorious renditions of some of these same tunes, Bowen’s delivery offers a distinctive, sometimes behind-the-beat phrasing that lends these familiar pieces a bit of character, allowing him to make them his own. Last year’s Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 is unquestionably Bowen’s most intensely country album, and with the flawless Then Sings My Soul, he has offered up what might be his most personal, soul-baring effort yet. — KELLY DEARMORE