Wade Bowen turned to friends and resources in Nashville to create Where Phones Don't Work (out Nov. 19), a new EP that reenergizes the native Texan's already-electric (and eclectic) catalog.
It wasn't a case of Bowen choosing Middle Tennessee trends over Texas country tradition, as he's not overly concerned about real or exaggerated differences between two prominent geographic scenes in country music lore.
"I've never drawn lines in the sand in my music," Bowen told Wide Open Country. "I've never drawn lines in the sand in my business or interviews or anything. I love Nashville for what it offers and what it brings to the table, and I love my region of where I live and spend the majority of my days right now. Especially because Texas is so wide open. We can still play music here. I've been really careful to not draw lines in the sand. I love rock 'n' roll. I love L.A. I love New York. I love it all, and I think we're all in this together. Music is too hard to be judgmental on each other."
Besides, producer Paul Moak, title track co-writer Rhett Akins (the father of country artist Thomas Rhett) and other Music City mainstays best suited the six-song collection Bowen set out to craft.
"I love recording in Nashville because you have access to so many talented people right there at your disposal and so much great recording equipment and so many great-sounding studios," Bowen explained. "I've done some stuff in Austin, which I loved as well in its own right, too. It just depends on what record we're making and what sounds we're trying to get. It really comes down to the musicians that you hire and the producer that you get and the engineers and all those things. For this particular project, it was perfect to call on Paul Moak and a lot of his buddies and a lot of great musicians that just made this thing come alive."
That's not to dismiss the mark Bowen's fellow Texans left on the project. For example, Heather Morgan, a TCU graduate turned go-to songwriter for Brett Eldredge and other Nashville stars, shines as a co-writer and guest vocalist on EP highlight "The Last Town in Texas."
"Heather Morgan is someone I wrote with quite a bit for this project and for the [next] record coming out, too," Bowen said. "I've just been writing a lot with her. She and Eric Paslay and I wrote this song that she sang on, 'Last Town in Texas.' Because she's such an incredible singer, songwriter and artist in her own right, I just thought it'd be cool to have her involved because she wrote the song with me. It made it extra special to have my collaborator in there, and she's such a great singer anyway. She made what I thought is a really cool song even better."
Songwriting genius Steve Earle collaborated with Bowen for the first time on "Trouble Is," a heartbreak song featuring guest vocalist Sarah Buxton. What under normal circumstances would've been a chance for Bowen to finally work in person with a fellow Texan not tied to a specific sound or scene took place digitally because of the pandemic.
"The one I wrote with Steve Earle was the most nerve-racking one, 'Trouble Is'," Bowen said. "Just because Steve is a huge influence and huge hero of mine. I'd never met him, so to actually meet each other on Zoom is very strange. I was really worried about it, but he was so great and he's such a pro. He's so used to helping young guys like me figure it out."
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Additional EP highlights include the title track, which conflates a lack of cell phone bars with fewer reminders of lost love. The six-song variety pack also brings us the jubilant "Where We Call Home," EP-closing shot of positivity "Be You" and "When Love Comes Around," a galloping number Chris Stapleton might wish he'd thought up first.
EPs are cursed blessings in a way. Though they hit the spot better than stray digital singles, four or six memorable songs tend to leave audiences longing for an album's worth of material. Lucky for us, there's plenty more on the way from Bowen.
"I could've easily done a record," he said. "We're working with Thirty Tigers, and everybody is releasing music right now because we've all been cooped up. Everybody has stuff coming out, so we couldn't find a slot through our distribution and our record label until May of next year. We just decided to do the EP kind of with them but kind of on our own as well just to get some new music out there because we're so excited about this new stuff. I didn't want to wait until the middle of next year to get some stuff out, so this was our solution to do that. I'm actually starting a full-length album of all new songs, not including these EP ones. We're just recording and having fun, and I'm really loving what I'm writing right now."
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