Prime Cuts: You Ought've Been There (Johnny Run The Pews), The Hole, I Didn't Drive the Nails
Overall Grade: 4.5/5
There are no wasted characters in John Bowman's songs. This bluegrass virtuoso gives the characters of his songs a three dimensional realism that they can leap out of his songs to offer us joy, comfort and companionship. In short, Bowman is a stellar storyteller. More than three years since his critically acclaim album "Beautiful Ashes," Bowman is back with this 6-song EP. These 6 newly recorded songs avail context for his animated characters to react the Gospel in various contexts and circumstances. Again, he is surrounded by greatness: you can't expect better playing. The combination of joyous-sounding fiddling and plaintive-sounding banjo pickings coupled with Bowman's silvery tenor make this an album a blessing to the ears and heart.
Bowman's credentials are staggering. Over the years, Bowman has been in celebrated teams such as the Isaacs, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and the GRAMMY-nominated Boxcars. "The Hole" is Bowman's 4th solo release, and his second with Mountain Home Music Company. Like his predecessor, "The Hole" is filled with animated story songs. This time the record is fronted by the exuberant "You Ought've Been There (Johnny Run The Pews)." Narrated through the eyes of the song's protagonist Johnny, the song chronicles how Johnny came to experience the power of the Holy Spirit one Sunday morning. And we do get to participate in this momentous event through the osmosis of joy that is as palatable as the breeze blowing as Johnny makes his way to the altar.
Then. Bowman brings us under the summer sun for some husbandry with the country-favored title cut "The Hole." Formerly cut by Randy Travis and co-writer Skip Ewing himself, the song is given a compelling muscular reading bringing out the grittiness of the song's message about wise spiritual investments. "I Didn't Drive the Nails" is the EP's nerve center. A gorgeous ballad that flourishes upon the song's attention to details. Here we get to experience with pop-up reality what Jesus went through for us on the Cross. "Little Bit" takes on a more worshipful turn as Bowman prays for God to overflow us with his love accompanied by some delightful fiddling.
Bowman heads onto more hardcore bluegrass terrain with the average sounding "Silverthorn Mountain'" and traditional dirge-like"I'll Talk It All Over With Him." If you are looking for a record that has characters that jump rights out as friends who share your concerns of God, life and living, this album is worth a listen. For those in need of Godly friends, look no farther than Bowman's "The Hole."