Kevin Fowler is one of the rare Texas country artists who helped build the genre and still finds himself at the top of it. Since 2000, Fowler and his trusty touring band have been tearing up the country at a clip of 150 shows per year.
Fowler landed several big cuts along the way, establishing himself as both a well-known name in Nashville and a fan favorite in Texas. His songs saw increasing success when artists like Mark Chesnutt and Montgomery Gentry put their spin on them, but he landed a Top 40 hit himself. The comical "Pound Sign (#?*!)" peaked at No. 34 on the country charts in 2010.
And of course, the Texas country scene ate him up, too. His unmistakable mix of country traditionalism, rocking guitars and tongue-in-cheek lyrical cleverness established Fowler as one of country's greatest personalities, if not live acts. Few singers have the charisma to pull off Fowler's vocal inflections.
So when Fowler says his new album, Coming to a Honky Tonk Near You, is the best record he's done since 2004's Loose, Loud and Crazy, he brings a certain credibility to his claims. And that's a lofty one, considering some of his most notable success came after that 2004 offering.
"The whole idea on this record was no fluff," Fowler says. "People always cut 12 songs with six to eight good songs, and the rest that we call 'album cuts,' which is just a nice way to say songs that suck."
So this time around, Fowler didn't put that pressure on himself or the band to fill a quota. Instead, he took the eight best songs for the album. "Eight songs that are all totally different -- nothing crappy," he adds. And one listen through the abbreviated album shows Fowler landed exactly where he wanted to.
"The Bouncer" carries Fowler's comedic timing, while "Living Proof" shows his softer side, anchored by a strong hook that almost certainly seems destined for a few more albums by other artists. There's album namesake "Honky Tonk Near You," an ode to the ruckus his touring outfit and fans command every night -- "his people," as he calls them.
And then there's "Sellout Song." Most folks familiar with Fowler already got a taste of that track when he released the hilarious music video a few months ago.
"Zane Williams and I were doing an acoustic charity event at Billy Bob's in Ft. Worth when he played ["Sellout Song"] and the crowd was just rolling," Fowler says. "I asked him if he was going to record it, and he said, 'Hell no.'" But Fowler knew if anybody could pull off sticking a finger to mainstream country while still making fun of himself at the same time, it was him.
"I'm probably the only one dumb enough to put that out and lucky enough to get by with it," laughs Fowler. And the music video really makes the song that much better. Not to mention Zane Williams' rap feature in the bridge. "We were just having fun and doing something silly," Fowler says. "Of course we didn't expect any mainstream radio airplay with that, cause it would kind of be biting the hand that feeds them."
And it's not like Fowler thinks it's all bad. He points to artists like Jon Pardi who have radio success but still keep it country and true to themselves.
But for every irreverent tune, Fowler always seems to send one up that pays immense respect to another part of life, be it a romance or a home. In the case of new single "Texas Forever," it's a bit of both.
Asking Fowler what makes the perfect "Texas" song and if this one is it, he says, "It's the best one I've ever heard." While songs like Josh Abbott's "My Texas" certainly hit on all the things Texans love about their state, "Texas Forever" does it in a way that gives you goosebumps.
"As a Texas artist, you've got to have a song about bluebonnets and Gruene Hall and drinking beer and I-35," laughs Fowler. Interestingly enough, another Texan brought the song to Fowler. Trent Willmon, one of Fowler's longtime friends, took him the song. "I got chills immediately," Fowler says. "All those places and references in there... it was a no-brainer."
In addition to working with Willmon for the first time, Fowler made the decision to cut more outside material. But it wasn't the normal "song-searching" process. "The songs came by way of friends and word of mouth," Fowler says. A large portion of that process came through Willmon.
"The further along I go in this business, the more I understand outside cuts," Fowler says. "It's hard to do it all: write, record, play 150 dates a year."
But that doesn't mean he's going to make a habit of doing outside songs. It just so happened those songs best represent who Fowler is as an artist.
"I think the fans will love these songs as much as I do," Fowler says. Now that he's on his own label with a distribution deal, Fowler feels the freedom to make songs for the fans. "I don't feel like I have to make the industry happy," Fowler explains. "I just want to make the fans happy."
And as long as he's not worried about changing for his fans, his fans don't have to worry about him changing either. Pick up Coming to a Honky Tonk Near You today.