Album Review: Wade Bowen – ‘Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth’

Given that 2018’s Solid Ground was arguably his furthest foray into distinct Texas and Red Dirt territory and that he released a second collaborative project alongside fellow Texan Randy Rogers with 2020’s Hold My Beer Vol. 2, I have to say that Wade Bowen’s decision to look toward Nashville and its writers for this year’s Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth comes as a bit of an unexpected pivot. But, given how solid last year’s Where Phones Don’t Work EP last year was as a teaser – and, given that he was working alongside names like Lori McKenna and Vince Gill for this year’s project – it fit more comfortably in his wheelhouse than one might expect. The thing with Bowen’s albums is that he always pushes a forward-thinking yet still accessible sound that’s layered and certainly has depth in its lyrics and themes, but is still easy to revisit nonetheless – comfort food to feel good about, in other words.

And that’s the tricky part about reviewing Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth – ostensibly another Bowen album that, despite sacrificing some of the rougher edges in tone and sound of his earlier work, still offers a really solid listen without a lot of analysis required. It’s just no-frills modern country and southern-rock that nails the basics and does carry its deeper moments to appreciate, subtle as they are. It helps that Bowen has always been committed to a more atmospheric sound and strong melodic grooves that can develop his tracks nicely; it’s one reason why the nice, burnished texture of the otherwise fairly straightforward opener “Everything Has Your Memory” has held up well for me.

And again, while this isn’t quite as firmly rooted in Texas or Red Dirt so much as distinct ‘80s and ‘90s-flavored mainstream country music, there is a lot to appreciate, most notably in the tempered acoustics and soft brushes of pedal steel that anchor fantastic slow burns like “Burnin’ Both Ends of the Bar,” “It’s Gonna Hurt,” and especially “A Guitar, A Singer and a Song,” the last of which being a duet with Vince Gill that’s legitimately excellent in capturing that timeless singer-songwriter ethos of why music can be such a powerfully healing force for some – especially on an album basically drenched in heartache.

Granted, some of the more southern-rock leaning cuts in “Honky Tonk Roll” and “She’s Driving Me Crazy” can feel a bit too polished and conventional for their own good, and certain more hard-biting lyrical sentiments like “If You Don’t Miss Me” can feel a bit undercooked and safe due to the lack of greater stakes. And I do miss the overall greater diversity in style that’s anchored his past work. But I still think there’s enough organic warmth enough to carry this: “A Beautiful World” is the sort of richly warm and graceful duet with Lori McKenna you’d expect it to be and is just really beautiful overall, and the huge hook of “Say Goodbye” has guaranteed it’ll be an underdog favorite of mine.

But hey, this is Bowen, and if there’s a reason to appreciate good, modern-leaning country music like this, it’s because his writing has mostly held up well, with a mature outlook toward life that’s always anchored his best work. He’s described this as something of a lighter project due to the events of recent years, and that’s indeed evidenced by the detailed and thankful “A Beautiful World.” And I’ll admit that coming off the noticeably darker Solid Ground I was hoping for a further push toward something heftier, even if this is the sort of natural pivot I should have expected even without the context of its recording. Some of the details this time around can be a bit flabby and broadly sketched – most notably the clichéd small-town anthem of “The Secret To This Town” that I do otherwise like. And I would definitely say this album finds a much better footing in its second half, but with his usual hangdog charm and sobering conviction, he can make this material feel lived-in. And that’s most prevalent in breakup tracks like “Burnin’ Both Ends of the Bar,” “Knowing Me Like I Do,” and “It’s Gonna Hurt,” where the focus is on distance and personal self-reflection, the first of which I really appreciate for that subtly clever George Strait reference.

Again, too, the second half is legitimately excellent, closing with two of my favorite tracks in the aforementioned Gill duet and the title track, which pulls a page out of Randy Travis’ playbook in the “On the Other Hand” conceit of sketching a very flawed character we’re not meant to commiserate with, but also one who can own up to his transgressions and find a way toward possible redemption, even if it’s just of the inner variety – it’s that tempered outlook of balancing the melancholic with a way forward that’s always made his writing great.

Now, in terms of Bowen’s albums I would slot this as somewhat of a weaker release – mostly due to lacking a stronger punch at points in content and production – but it’s also the sort of meat-and-potatoes country music that clicks regardless, with enough great texture, sharp writing and strong melodic grooves to connect; another solid Bowen album with plenty of great moments that’s easy to like.

(8/10)

  • Favorite tracks: “Everything Has Your Memory,” “Burnin’ Both Ends of the Bar,” “A Beautiful World” (feat. Lori McKenna), “Knowing Me Like I Do,” “It’s Gonna Hurt,” “Say Goodbye,” “A Guitar, A Singer and a Song” (feat. Vince Gill), “Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth”
  • Least favorite track: “Honky Tonk Roll”

Buy or stream the album.

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