Four years ago, Wade Bowen wasn't sure if he'd ever sing again. He encountered vocal issues which temporarily paused his career and left him questioning the future. After undergoing vocal surgery, Bowen got his voice back, but other struggles —namely, the passing of a family member and road crew member in addition to the pandemic— left him feeling low on creativity. Through revisiting his formative listening years and collaborating with the right people, Bowen found inspiration yet again, and his new album, Somewhere Between the Secret And the Truth, is the result.
"You get to a point where you go, 'Alright, we just can't catch a break right now,'" Bowen told Wide Open Country. "Looking back on that last four years, I realize it all happens for a reason, as it always does. I always tell myself that, but it's hard to feel that way sometimes when you're in the middle of it."
His first full-length solo project since 2018's Solid Ground features 12 tracks covering love, loss, legacy and more. Bowen's honest songwriting style — crafted alongside co-writers like Eric Paslay, Heather Morgan and Lori McKenna — is prevalent throughout the album. The collection of songs also features rich, traditional-leaning country production. These characteristics were inspired by Bowen's return to the country music of his youth, which also helped pull him out of writer's block.
"What I really started focusing on and noticing was I love country music — '80s, '90s country — and I'd never really focused much on that in my career," Bowen said. "That's what I grew up listening to, and it became a huge part of my life. When I started leaning into that songwriting side of it, I started finding a lot of happiness and a lot of songs that I was really, really proud of."
The album begins with "Everything Has Your Memory," one of the three co-writes with Paslay and Morgan penned during a writer's retreat at Bowen's family ranch outside of Waco, Texas. The song falls more on the modern side of the sonic spectrum compared to others on the project, but it is undeniably country with strong guitars and driving percussion.
Bowen then dives into his deep country roots with the smoldering "Burning Both Ends of the Bar," co-written by himself and Randy Montana. In this, an update on the classic country heartbreak song, Bowen sings from the perspective of a man sitting in a bar and watching his ex-love move on with someone else. The song's title comes from a line in the next song, "Honky Tonk Roll," which tells a very different story.
While "Burning Both Ends of the Bar" focuses on the pain of a broken heart, "Honky Tonk Roll" characterizes a wild night of drinking on the town. The fast tempo and production echo the untamed spirit of the tune through rowdy electric guitars and piano.
"This is me in the bars of Texas that I made a living off of," Bowen said of the song's inspiration.
Though Somewhere Between The Secret And The Truth features many upbeat moments ("She's Driving Me Crazy" being another), it's also peppered with vulnerable, heartfelt statements. In "Secret to This Town," Bowen sings about the indelible mark hometown memories can leave on one's heart. Then there's the Keith Whitley-inspired "It's Gonna Hurt," in which Bowen shares a shred of optimistic advice amid heartbreak.
"It's gonna hurt, then it won't / You're gonna cry 'til you don't," he sings as acoustic guitar accompanies him.
An especially poignant moment comes in the form of track six: "A Beautiful World," featuring McKenna. The song points out the simple yet beautiful aspects of life, and it was written by the two artists over Zoom during the strife-filled year of 2020. For Bowen, the song provided a vehicle to remind listeners of the unseen beauty surrounding them.
"At the end of the day, it's a beautiful world, and I think it's a beautiful sentiment and one that needs to be said right now," he explained. "I love that it's positive. It's not talking about the negative in the world; it's talking about the positive things. Finding the good in the bad."
In another standout moment, the singer teams with Vince Gill for "A Guitar, A Singer and A Song," which was also co-written by Bowen and McKenna. Its lyrics serve as a love letter to the often demanding career of a singer-songwriter, and it also finds Bowen and Gill expressing every songwriter's desire to leave a lasting legacy through music.
"When I lay my head down, it's just me and my guitar and the songs I write, and that's what I'm leaving people with," Bowen shared. "I wanted to try to tell people the sadness that comes with that, but also, the importance of what we're sacrificing to make these so-called dreams come true."
Bowen calls working with Gill "one of the crowning moments" of his career.
At the end of the album, listeners are finally greeted with "Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth." The title track takes its name from a line in "A Guitar, A Singer and A Song," and it tells a classic country cheating story with a twist. More than that though, Bowen says the song's premise doubles as a metaphor for life itself, including the hard times.
"We're all somewhere in the middle of letting people see our secrets and letting people know the truth, and everything we do every day kind of lies somewhere in between there," he said. "We're all struggling, we're all trying to do good, we're all making mistakes, but at the end of the day, we're all just humans and hopefully we all choose the right path."
Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth not only helped pull Bowen out of the creative drought he experienced, but he says that out of all the projects he's released in his 20-year career, this album showcases the most genuine and complete version of himself.
"I hope when people hear the music, they hear almost a brand new version of myself, a better version, the best version they've ever heard," he said. "Someone who's renewed and been through all of that but has a great sense of self and a better sense of self than I've ever had. That's a really good feeling this far into my career — to love music more than I ever have."
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