CD Review: John Bowman – Beautiful Ashes

CD Review: John Bowman – Beautiful Ashes

BeautifulAshes-300x269Label: Mountain Home Music Company
Producers: John Bowman & Troy Engle
Songs: Let The Hard Times Roll; Ashes; Cold Day In Hell; Baby Girl; Caiaphas’ Blues; Sweet River; He’s Your Friend; Lies The Devil Told; They’re Holding Up The Ladder; Reach Of His Hand; When My Travelin’ Days Are Over
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars (scale of 1-5)

John Bowman is a former member of the Isaacs and a bluegrass group called the Boxcars. In mid-2014, Bowman struck out on his own, releasing a CD titled Worship Him and scheduling a full slate of solo dates.

Beautiful Ashes is Bowman’s second full-length CD since leaving the Boxcars. He plays guitar, mandolin, banjo and bass, plus he sings most of the harmony vocals. He also has one songwriting credit, a collaboration with Aubrey Haynie on the instrumental “Caiphas’ Blues.” When I heard a female harmony vocal in a few spots, I though the singer was most likely Bowman’s wife Becky or possibly his sister-in-law Sonya from the Isaacs. The female background vocalist is actually Autumn Nelon.

The song selection offers enough variety to keep the listener engaged, but doesn’t seem like a random collection of styles. Bowman effectively straddles the line between traditional country and bluegrass styles. Before I heard a single note, I could sense a country connotation just by reading the titles of “Let The Hard Times Roll” and “Cold Day In Hell.” I particularly enjoyed the Texas swing style of “He’s Your Friend.”  On the bluegrass side, songs like Carter Stanley’s “Baby Girl,” the Easter Brothers’ “They’re Holding Up The Ladder” and Woody Wright’s “When My Travelin’ Days Are Over” prominently feature Bowman’s banjo picking skills.

Beautiful Ashes features some lyrics that force you to listen closely to fully understand what each song was really about. “Ashes” is such a song. So is “Lies The Devil Told.” When I saw “Lies The Devil Told” included on the song list, I was eager to compare it with the version that songwriter Tim Menzies recorded last year on His Way Of Loving Me. The biggest contrast is the fiddle that so effectively complimented the vocal on the Menzies arrangement is only used sparingly by Bowman. Bowman’s voice tends to work better with a simpler accompaniment, so that was the right choice for him. Otherwise, the two arrangements are virtually identical. I’d give the edge to Menzies, because his vocal is dripping with character, but it’s so close you really can’t go wrong with either one.

I’m completely impressed by the quality of the songwriting, the arrangements, the instrumentation, and, as I mentioned two paragraphs earlier, the way these songs all fit together so well to create a conceptual collection of material. Vocally, perhaps I’m belaboring the comparison to Tim Menzies, but it raises a larger point. Everything John Bowman sings is right on point, but his vocal tone and delivery style is rather vanilla. If he’d stepped up that one element just a notch, Beautiful Ashes would be a 5 Star CD. As it stands, I rate it at 4 1/2 Stars, which is higher than the vast majority of the music I hear and well worth your attention.


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Category CD Reviews, Reviews

David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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4 Comments

  1. Reply December 02, 10:13 #1 Tad Kirkland

    John Bowman’s vocals are pure as the driven snow. I wouldn’t mess it up I by stretching him.

    • Reply December 02, 10:24 David Bruce Murray Author

      I would, but as I said in the review, just a notch. He doesn’t need to go all Louis Armstrong or anything extreme like that, just emphasize a key line with more force here and there.

  2. Reply December 02, 12:09 #2 Odie

    Can’t wait to hear this project. John is amazing singer, musician and person.

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