Kip Moore often lies awake in bed at night. Melodies and lyrics swirl through his head. Sometimes they’ll dissipate as seamlessly as they first arrived. Other times, the singer-songwriter can do nothing but begin singing them aloud. It frees his ever-churning mind. It allows him to continually discover his own voice. It grounds him. Most importantly, for a man prone to bouts of self-doubt, it reassures Moore that his path is a righteous one. “I have a complete sense of calm right now,” the singer-songwriter says. “During this whole journey, as down as I’ve gotten at times, I’ve done this thing my way. I don’t have any regrets. I’m always looking ahead.”
The journey Moore speaks to is a monumental one: from that of a struggling Nashville musician to a massive country superstar with his mammoth 2012 debut album Up All Night; and an artistic adventurer with 2015’s sonically bold and critically revered second effort, Wild Ones.
Now Moore is set to release his most unflinching, distinct testimony yet: “I know how strong this record is. I know its capabilities,” Moore says of SLOWHEART, the country star’s evocative and profound third album due on September 8th. The culmination of an ever-evolving talent’s process of selfdiscovery, the LP is a warm and honest embrace of Moore’s rugged rock roots and a showcase for his innate poetic prowess.
“This album is growing into where I am now,” Moore says of a vivid album that bleeds with lyrical raw emotion and rings true with sonic warmth. “I’m never going to be one of those artists that’s trying to stay relevant. I’m going to grow as my music grows. I’m going to grow as a human being.”
Central to Moore is the knowledge that in SLOWHEART he’s created a collection of enduring, sturdy songs, ones that showcase his knack for rich storytelling and are not unlike the albums he was raised on. Over 13 tracks, Moore unfurls acute accounts of loss and longing (“Plead the Fifth”), confusion and conviction (“Bittersweet Company”), frivolous falsehood (“Blonde”) and always daring to dream (“Guitar Man”). “I want to be an artist that moves people to their core and that they hold onto forever,” he says. “That’s what got me into this; it was all for the purity of the music. I never gave two shits about money and fame,” he adds. “It was all about the songs.”
Arriving at his current place of “clarity and peace” required Moore to remove himself from the rigors and oft-grinding politics of Nashville. Following the rigorous Wild Ones tour, the singer spent time traveling through Costa Rica, Hawaii and Iceland. He immersed himself in nature and self-reflection. “It helped me to really step away from the whole industry side of things,” Moore explains. He’d been previously quietly writing and recording new material, four or five songs, if only to put his thoughts down on wax. “It was a very organic process,” Moore recalls of the earliest days of SLOWHEART. When Moore returned home from traveling he learned his record label was ecstatic with what he’d created. “They just went nuts over the songs. It was so nice,” he says with a laugh. “It was just like ‘Hey man, go make the record you want. Nobody is gonna mess with you.’ So I had total freedom to do whatever I wanted,” Moore, who produced the vast majority of SLOWHEART, adds, “So I was going to go in and finish this record the way I heard it in my head and not have one sense of doubt. If I loved it and I felt it I recorded it.”
This take-no-prisoners attitude is all over the album, and slathered atop a swath of brutally honest cuts: “The Bull,” written by Jon Randall and Luke Dick and anchored by a spiraling acoustic guitar lick, is Moore’s rejoinder to those who doubted him along the way. After Dick played him the song, “I flipped out,” Moore recalls. “I was like, “I definitely have to do this. This is exactly how I feel.” On lead single “More Girls Like You,” Moore comes to terms with the prospect of settling down, maturing, and living a more reigned-in life. “Well, I've been living like a wild old mustang/Out in Montana fields,” Moore sings with vigor and virtue. “Might've earned me a bad reputation/ But never stopped these wheels.” The song, he says, was inspired after he helped a father teach his young daughter to surf while in Costa Rica. “That is the first taste of the idea that I might be ready for my next chapter of life,” Moore offers. “It’s a very direct reflection of me evolving as a human being.”
The musician says he was intimately involved in the recording process for SLOWHEART like never before. “Before I might get quiet in the studio but now I’m not like that,” he says. “Now I know what I want and what I hear in my head and that’s what I want to be on the record.” Alongside his engineer, Dave Salley, longtime co-writers like Westin Davis and David Garcia, and his band, the Slow Hearts, Moore crafted the album exactly as he saw fit: live and decidedly un-slick. The sonic feel then, Moore says, is of “a band in a room just sitting down and figuring out a song and how it moves you. We kept all that warmth and air in the room. We didn’t try to suck any of it out.” To that end, Moore points to the six-minute reflective album closer, “Guitar Man.” Moore sang his entire vocal part live to tape as musicians Tom Bukovac and Dave Cohen unknowingly played the tender guitar lines in the adjoining room. “That’s why you hear me taking breaths and catching up with my phrasing,” Moore says with a laugh. “I loved it.”
The singer says he’s immensely proud: not only of his career, his album and his never-compromising attitude, but of the trust and dedication he’s fostered in his audience. That symbiotic relationship between Moore and his fans is never more apparent than during one of his reputation-making live performances. Moore views his shows as an emotional roller coaster with both he and his audience hanging on at every turn: the singer’s calling card, a Kip Moore show typically swerves from the raucous and rowdy one minute to the intimate and emotional the next. It’s led to a deep, profound and poignant bond between the singer and his fans. “There was a huge undercurrent of fan support that’s been building for the last couple years,” Moore says of him beginning to sell out massive theaters across the country during the Wild Ones tour and, in the process, tripling the size of his audience, many of whom who chant every word he sings right back at him.
“Through this whole experience I’ve had a sense of peace that I have a real fanbase that’s gonna stick with me,” he says. “I’m very in touch with my audience and they’re in touch with me. I know how they’re gonna feel about this project.
“What I’m doing now has deep roots that are not going to break off,” Moore continues. “There’s never been any gimmicks. I’ll get to where I want to go.” He pauses and lets out a knowing chuckle, “That’s because I’m going to do it the way I want.”
Authenticity isn’t something that can be manufactured in a studio. It’s not a craft that can be learned or artfully practiced. It comes from living life. It’s the byproduct of blood, sweat and tears and as the foundation for music, it elevates mere entertainment to compelling art. Every note, every word on the Randy Rogers Band’s new album Nothing Shines Like Neon (1.15) rings with an authenticity that makes each song linger with the listener long after the music fades.
“You’ve just got to be true to yourself and you can’t fool anybody,” Rogers states matter of factly of the band’s philosophy. “As a whole, our body of work is pretty consistent to our live show and the band that plays on the record is the band that you go see."
The same lineup has been performing together since 2002 and the music has evolved as they’ve soaked up life experience. “As men, we’ve all matured and lived a lot of life together,” Rogers says. “We’ve had a few breakups happen to us. We’ve had babies. We’ve had life changes. We’ve been on the road 200 shows a year. I’ve been in this band 15 years so a lot has changed. I still listen to Merle Haggard every night. I mean that hasn’t changed, but a lot has changed for us musically and privately. We all are in a good spot and we all are just as good friends as when we started.”
Camaraderie and creativity have made Rogers and bandmates Geoffrey Hill (guitar), Johnny “Chops” Richardson (bass guitar), Brady Black (fiddle), Les Lawless (drums) and Todd Stewart (utility player) one of the top bands on the competitive Texas music scene. Nothing Shines Like Neon continues the momentum established by the band’s four previous albums—Randy Rogers Band, Burning the Day, Trouble and Homemade Tamales, each of which went to No. 1 on iTunes. Earlier in 2015, Rogers joined friend Wade Bowen to record the critically acclaimed album Hold My Beer Vol. 1.
Produced by Nashville legend Buddy Cannon (Willie/Merle) at Cedar Creek in Austin, RRB’s new album Nothing Shines Like Neon showcases the band’s taut musicianship as well as Rogers’ earnest vocals and insightful songwriting on such instant classics as the groove-laden “Rain and the Radio,” the heartbreak anthem “Neon Blues” and the playful “Actin’ Crazy,” a duet with Jamey Johnson. “Jamey and I wrote that song together,” Rogers notes. “I met a movie star a few days before Jamey and I were going to write. I was in LA playing at the House of Blues and he came out to the show. I was thinking about him …and thinking about being a struggling actor living in LA and having to put up with all the bullshit that LA is. I just wrote that song about him.”
The album opens with the fiddle-driven shuffle “San Antone”. “That is a Keith Gattis song. He wrote by himself. Being from Texas and living so close to San Antonio, I don’t think that song is going to hurt me at all,” Rogers laughs. “It’s one of those songs when I heard it I was like, ‘Oh hell! Why didn’t I write this song?’”
“Takin’ It As It Comes” features Lone Star legend Jerry Jeff Walker. “I’ve been a big fan of Jerry Jeff’s all my life,” Rogers says. “He came in the studio with us, got in there with the band, jumped around and played guitar and sang. We had a great time.”
“Rain and the Radio” is Rogers’ homage to Ronnie Milsap. “I wrote that with Sean McConnell. He and I have written a lot of songs through the years. I’ve always been a huge Ronnie Milsap fan and to me that song has a little Milsap feel to it, kind of a bluesy country thing, which we haven’t done before. Any artist that I look up to always tries to create something different and pushes the envelope a little bit. I think we do with that song in particular. It’s very country. It’s just very different. As a band, we’re trying to broaden our horizons and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If we were all just stuck doing the same old thing, we would all be bored. We probably wouldn’t still be here. It’s just a matter of spreading your wings a little bit.”
“Look Out Yonder” is a poignant tune Rogers recorded in honor of his mentor, the late Kent Finlay. “Kent gave me my start in the music business. Up until the day that he died, we talked about songs and about music,” Rogers says. “We actually named the record, Nothing Shines Like Neon after a lyric in one of his songs as a tribute to him. Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski are singing on ‘Look Out Yonder’, which was written by Earl Bud Lee, who is most famous for writing ‘Friends In Low Places’. He and I have been friends for 10 years and he has always wanted me to cut that song. I’ve never had a record where it fit and just thinking about losing Kent and Kent going to heaven and joining his mom, ‘Look out yonder coming down the road’ it just fit. I haven’t performed that song yet live, but I know I’m going to have a hard time getting through it. The day we started our record, I got a call that Kent passed away so this record is definitely dedicated to Kent. That song makes me think about all of us musicians and how we are crazy as hell and lead the most unorthodox lives. Most of us return back to our roots, so, hopefully, this is an album that glorifies Kent’s life and is also a nod to the traditional sounds that we all grew up loving.”
A native of Cleburne, Texas, Rogers grew up addicted to traditional country music. “I wanted to be George Strait when I was in the sixth grade,” he says with a smile. “And I grew up listening to Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, I’ve listened to them more than anybody else, my whole life. I always liked songs. I always wanted to find out who wrote the songs and what the songs were about. I always liked the art and the craft of being a songwriter. My dad’s Beatles records got played a lot and Michael Martin Murphy is another one I listened to a lot as a kid. My dad was a huge fan.”
Like many artists, Rogers got his start performing in church and then expanded to local venues. “I could write a song when I was pretty little, 11, 12 or 13,” he says. “It’s like a kid who could do calculus or something. It was just something that clicked in my brain for me. I went and finished college and got a degree in public relations and then started a band.”
Since then the Randy Rogers Band has steadily built a following that has spilled beyond their native Texas. For the past 10 years they’ve recorded for Universal Music Group, but on Nothing Shines Like Neon, Rogers again takes the reins, releasing the album on his own Tommy Jackson Records, named after a song he wrote for their very first album. “It’s a very obscure Randy Rogers Band song and to this day there is always this one drunk kid at a show that says, ‘Play “Tommy Jackson!” Play “Tommy Jackson!”’ It’s kind of a running joke within our band. It’s like, ‘How in the hell did this kid in Iowa City, Iowa remember that stupid song “Tommy Jackson?”’ It’s about a guy who is on the run from the cops, wanted for murder. It’s a story song and we just felt like it was a unique way to name a record label.”
Nothing Shines Like Neon is a stellar collection in an already impressive body of recorded material that owes a lot to the band’s potent live show. “You come to a show, you know what you’re going to get,” Rogers says. “We’ve worked hard at making ourselves better on stage and we care about our live show. It’s a way to come out and unwind, and we’ve stuck to writing songs that are about real life, about breakups or divorces, falling in love or babies being born and, in the case of this record, even death, the ups and downs of life. People can relate. That’s what country music is supposed to be. Our band has been around for a long time because there’s no bullshit to us. We’re not in it to be rich and famous. We’re in it to make a living, provide for our families and do something that we all love. You can’t fool people and we haven’t ever tried. I think that’s the key.”
Every story has a next chapter and for Wade Bowen, this new self-titled album, is it. Wade Bowen marks a new beginning, the turning of the page to a place where the music becomes a little bit freer, a little bit looser, and a lot more intimate. This is the sound of catharsis, of Bowen released from major label bonds to find himself on his own again - ragged from the storm, but finally, back on shore.
In short, this is the real Wade Bowen.
Bowen has sold over 300,000 album in his short career, sung duets with the likes of Will Hoge ("Another Song Nobody Will Hear") and Brandy Clark, (the duet of "Love in the First Degree" on the successful comp "High Cotton: A Tribute to Alabama"), and been featured on compilations alongside the likes of Charlie Daniels, Old Crow Medicine Show, Eli Young Band and The Blind Boys from Alabama. His Wade Bowen Classic golf tournament has raised over 1 million dollars to benefit children's charities across central Texas.
And now, after 15 years of near constant touring, (sometimes up to 250 nights a year), through hit albums like, The Given, and hit tracks like, "Songs About Trucks," Bowen has continuously grown and evolved, becoming the man on this incredible new record. Welcome Bowen the balladeer, the storyteller, the guy who sings from the heart. “This was a whole new approach,” explains Bowen of the making of this newest album, his 7th to date, “Probably what I love most about this album is the search I went on to go out of my norm and write some songs that were out of my comfort zone. I guess you could say I was more selfish on this record. I wanted everyone playing on this to feel willing to explore, to go as far out as they wanted to. I wanted to go back to the way we all played when we were kids in garage somewhere, playing just for the pure fun of it. “
Sometimes, starting new, means going back to where you began in the first place, where music was played straight from the gut, for the sheer and beautiful joy of it. Wade Bowen was made without the burdens that come with big business or the pressures to fit in any kind of particular box. This is simple, American-made Americana, dreamt up on the road and played in the company of good friends. “The focus was to talk about what I’ve been through. To get personal,” Bowen says of writing these new tracks, “everything I’ve been through lead me to this. I needed to get stuff off my chest in a way, to be free and to be playing music for the right reasons. This album was about getting friends involved, about getting on the road and trying to inspire people.”
Recorded his own way, Wade Bowen sounds more like a casual gathering than a stiff studio session. The players have space to breath and room to explore. You can hear it in the big guitar thrusts of “When It’s Reckless”, co-written with Will Hoge. “When I heard Will for the first time, I always wondered what a co-write between us would sound like,” says Bowen. “Finally, here it is.” Your can here is in gritty sway of “Honky Tonk Road” a track Bowen first heard performed by Walt Wilkins and the Mystiqueros and “fell in love with it. Walt has always been one of my favorites anyway. They took this Ray Stephenson song and made it their own and from the first time I heard it I imagined how fun it would be to get some buddies together to sing it with me. Remember back in the days when multiple artists recorded a good song, over and over? Well…” On covers like this one, as well as on the album’s vibrant originals, Bowen and his band manage capture all the raw energy of a live performance, while taking us on a wild ride down the highways and byways of a lost America. “It was about the energy,” says Bowen, “I wanted this record to be unique from everything else I’d done. It is rawer record than I’ve ever done and it has more of a free spirit. I want you to feel like you’re in the room with us when you’re listening to it.” With Wade Bowen, he rolls with us onto wide-open roads and into territory both fresh and familiar. You can hear a host of influences here, old school rockn’roll, classic country, and singer-songwriter confessionals. But the thematic glue that holds the album together is the idea of moving forward, of moving on, of following that arrow of black pavement that links one experience to the next.
Tracks like “Drive and “Wander” are songs born of hot asphalt, of the sky spread out big and blue. “California” and “Leola” carry traces of sweet nostalgia and the kind of yearning that aches deep in the chest. “Gonna Go” is darker, grittier, following the beat of the road, that dotted yellow line pulsing into a lost horizon. On “West Texas Rain”, with Vince Gill guesting on vocals, Bowen gives a nod to his early days in his home state, a place, “where I started playing music and figuring life out. I’ve always felt that as a writer, sometimes the best thing to do is just be as honest as you can and everything seems to work itself out. This song is a story of life and love and learning and anyone who knows West Texas as all knows, if you don’t like the weather, stick around cause it’ll change before you know it. Live your life. We are only here for a little while.”
“I wrote the album over a few years time,” explains Bowen, “but when you gather these songs together, there always seems to be a theme you didn’t see before. A lot of them are about being on the road, about the life I’ve been leading. I listen to this record and my life comes through, and ultimately, without trying, the songs all ended up feeling right together.”
Take a listen. The tracks on Wade Bowen feel as familiar as old denim, as comforting as an old friend - back again after a long time gone. This is an album that has Bowen both returning to his roots…and pushing ahead into strange new lands. These are songs made of memories, regrets, redemption and the promise of a next chapter too - those adventures that still await just up around the next curve.