Friday, December 27, 2019

John Bowman: “The Hole” (2019) CD Review

John Bowman is a guitarist, banjo player and singer who is known for his work in the Isaacs and The Boxcars, and was briefly a member of Alison Krauss And Union Station. He is also fairly heavily involved in religion, as his work in The Isaacs and his solo career will attest to. His latest release, an EP titled The Hole, continues in that vein, the disc containing covers of religious and spiritual numbers, in the country and bluegrass realms. But, as with gospel, you don’t have to be a believer to enjoy this music. John Bowman is joined by several talented musicians on this release, including Kelley Back on electric guitar, Aubrey Haynie on fiddle and mandolin, Ben Isaacs (from The Isaacs) on bass and backing vocals, Gordon Mote on piano, Mike Rogers on drums and backing vocals, and Josh Swift on dobro.

The EP opens with “You Ought’ve Been There (Johnny Run The Pews),” a song written by Ed Easter and James Easter. It is a fun bluegrass number with some great harmonies and some delicious playing, moving at a good pace. John Bowman then changes gears for “I Didn’t Drive The Nails,” a slower, gentle number written by Mark Wheeler. I’m personally not religious, but this song is pretty, particularly those harmonies. That’s followed by “The Hole,” the EP’s title track, written by Skip Ewing and James D. Hicks (and included on Ewing’s Until I Found You album). This is a fun, bright number with an excellent vocal performance. Early in this one he sings, “Well, he set out to be a rich man/Happiness is what he thought he’d find.” But oh, it’s hard to keep from thinking that riches would bring happiness. Certainly money cannot ensure happiness, but it would help us purchase our way out of much worry and despair. My favorite lines from this song are “Use the one chance you’ve been given/‘Cause once you’re in the ground and cold/It’s too late to start living/You see, you can’t dig out of the hole.” I love those lines, and I love that work on fiddle.

“Little Bit,” a song written by Joseph Barry Hutchens, has a cheerful and uplifting sound. “I don’t want a little bitty blessing, lord/I want my cup running over.” This track too features some nice work on fiddle. That’s followed by a fun bluegrass rendition of Merle Haggard’s “Silverthorn Mountain,” a song from Haggard’s 1986 LP A Friend In California. Haggard’s original rendition features some wonderful stuff on fiddle, and in this new version by John Bowman the fiddle really soars. This track has such a pleasant, happy sound. It is raising my spirits, and might also raise you from your seat to get you moving. It is probably my favorite track of the EP. The disc then concludes with “I’ll Talk It All Over With Him,” another lively bluegrass tune with that good ol’ bluegrass gospel sound and plenty of positive vibes. The musicians all shine on this track. “So many things in this land I shall never understand/I’ll talk it all over with him/And by the savior’s dear side I will ever abide/I’ll talk it all over with him.”

CD Track List
  1. You Ought’ve Been There (Johnny Run The Pews)
  2. I Didn’t Drive The Nails
  3. The Hole
  4. Little Bit
  5. Silverthorn Mountain
  6. I’ll Talk It All Over With Him
The Hole was released on September 27, 2019.

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