I’ll be the first to admit Ronnie Bowman is a polarizing bluegrass figure. While his bona fides are without question—he had been recognized for his talents as IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year three times before 2000—and he is always in demand for guest vocalist duties, there are some who find he goes to the ‘weepy well’ a little too often. I tend to be one of those holding that opinion.
Here is what little I know: I fully enjoyed this latest offering Ronnie Bowman, a terrific bluegrass album. Yes, there are a couple songs that go to the wimpy side of bluegrass, but nothing is unlistenable, and the majority is sparkin’ ‘grass: good time, pickin’ party favourites and interesting newer songs.
The album kicks off with Bowman hanging out with Del McCoury and Bobby Bare on the Cowboy Copas hit, “Alabam.” Buoyed by as strong a group of bluegrass sidemen as one can hire—Dan Tyminski (mandolin), Barry Bales (bass), Scott Vestal (banjo), Wyatt Rice (guitar), Jimmy Stewart (Dobro), and Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), all of whom (but Stewart) appear elsewhere on the album—Bowman is at his peak, and from all appearances it seems he and his pals all had a fine time picking together. McCoury and Bare—if gravelly—are in fine voice, while Bowman sounds amazing.
The same holds true throughout the remaining thirty minutes or so of the rest of the album. A dozen songs, expertly presented with friends including both McCoury sons, Dennis Crouch, Stuart Duncan, Shawn Camp, Rob Ickes, and the like. “Music of the Mountains,” indeed.
Among the familiar songs, highlights include a blistering take of “Hit Parade of Love” and a stellar “Love of the Mountains” (Bowman’s long-ago boss Allen Mills’ Lost & Found song), on both of which Del also sings harmony. Chris Stapleton lends vocal harmony to “Gonna Be Raining When I Die” and “Simple Man,” while Tyminski and others further flesh-out a number of the songs. “Truck Driver’s Queen” and “Matterhorn”—a song whose enduring appeal escapes me—are additional songs most bluegrass jammers know and hold dear.
The less familiar songs are the equal of these standards. ‘I’d Rather Be A Memory,” from Bowman, Buddy Cannon, and Larry Bastian, has all the hallmarks of a lasting song—a memorable, loping country melody, a catchy refrain, and engaging, honest circumstance— and “Looking For A Reason” from Bowman and Shawn Camp is every bit its equal. Another Bowman co-write, this time with Dean Dillon and Ted Walker, closes the set, and “You Cut the Ties” is the preverbal icing on the cake—a familial circle song finish to a strong, well-envisioned album.
With Ronnie Bowman he is firmly within our bluegrass world. From what I gather, the album was recorded a few years back; glad it has made its way to the market. Ronnie Bowman snuck out late in 2019—make sure you don’t miss it: pairs nicely with the recent Band of Ruhks album, Authentic.