Kevin Bowe + The Okemah Prophets: Natchez Trace

Paul Whyte

As far as having ties with the industry in the region Kevin Bowe has definitely paid his dues. His career in music sprang from the Minneapolis music scene of the 80s where he played in a few punk bands and ended up meeting the producer David Z known for helping put out acts such as Prince, Fine Young Cannibals and Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Bowe achieved notoriety when he started to write songs for artists such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Johnny Lang and, perhaps most notably, he wrote four songs on Etta James’ Grammy winning album, “Let’s Roll.”
After all of this work for other artists, Bowe has decided to make an album for himself and brings in an impressive line up of guest artists to pull together this album titled “Natchez Trace.” There is a poem at the end of the liner notes that starts off,
“sorry boys‚Ķbut this one’s for me
hot off the vanity press
from my lips to God’s ears
this one’s for me.”
This album was written, produced and mixed by Kevin Bowe and “The Okemah Prophets” which consists of the seasoned performers Peter Anderson on drums and Steve Price on Bass who have worked with bands such as Los Lobos, Bob Mould and Freedy Johnston. It goes without saying that the musicianship and recording of this album is completely solid and I’d be worried if it wasn’t.
This album has an interesting mix of country, rock, blues and pop and switches up these genres through out it. It also has a very consistent sound overall which can be credited to Bowe’s somewhat mellow and smooth lyrics that are accented with just a just touch of raspiness.
The feel of genre on this album is largely determined by what instruments are being played. It is certainly a catchy album that doesn’t ever stray far from a radio friendly pop sound at it’s core.
The first two songs have a country feel to them. “Fallen Satellites” features a the pedal steel played by John Ely, which often makes anything sound a little bit country. Likewise the next song, “Long Goodbye,” brings in a B3 organ played by Tommy Barbella and rides heavily on the piano played by Ruth Whitney Bowe which holds down this slightly somber pop ballad. The song also features John Solomon and Molly Moore from Communist on harmony vocals.
The song that stands out the most on the album is “Power Trip” which is played entirely by Bowe. There isn’t a whole lot of experimenting on this album and this song is by far has the most to offer in that area. A kind of whacky organ, weird but tasteful vocal effects hear and there, percussion that is predominately hand claps and other worldly lyrics adds a little character to this mostly buttoned down album. Besides “Power Trip,” another fun track on the album is “Everybody Lies.” A horn section rocks the song along with back up vocals by The Liar’s Choir.
The album turns more serious through many of the songs toward the last half of the album. The songs move between a mostly country and blues feel. “My Favorite Pain” is a soft country/pop number that again features the pedal steel of Ely. The next track on the album, The song, “Just Restless,” takes a turn to an upbeat bluesy country/rock number. The song “I Found Out” has more of a straight rock sound and is played by the core three piece of Bowe, Anderson and Price.
There is a long list of instruments on this album but the song “Devil’s Garden” brings in an electric sitar which is played by Bowe. The twang of banjo played by Chris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppers in the mix creates a unique sound to this light pop/rock track. Perhaps the most Americana sounding track on the album is the last track “Every Little Bit Hurts.” There’s one more track on the album but it’s a clean version of one of the previous tracks. Again the feel of genre is determined by the instruments. When you bring in a lap steel, pedal steel and a fiddle, it’s almost hard to not have a roots/country sound.
My only criticism of the album is the issue I have with a lot of local pop albums that I end up listening to; it sounds almost too much like the way it should. Besides the track “Power Trip,” and “Everybody Lies,” much of the album doesn’t really push any boundaries. The great array of instruments played by top notch musicians keeps it interesting and is the primary drive of the album. Bowe claims that he made this album for himself and is indifferent about what people think about it. I think it would be interesting to see Bowe take on the “Power Trip” approach and make the most avant garde music that he could come up with all on his own.
As mentioned, this album brings is quite a few guest artists. Besides members of Communist Daughter, a few notable musicians include Phil Solem from the Rembrandts, Scarlett Rivera who plays with Bob Dylan, Nels Cline of Wilco, Chuck Prophet and Tim O’Reagan from the Jayhawks, Chris and Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets and the track “Everybody Lies” was co-written with Paul Westerberg from The Replacements.
Two musicians that are commonly associated with Bowe include Freedy Johnston and Alison Scott who has played several times in the Twin Ports such as at the Bayfront Blues Festival. This weekend, Saturday, November 6, the three Twin Cities artists will share a show at Tycoon’s. The show will start at 10 p.m., will have an $8 cover and is 21+.


Paul Whyte

A South Shore native and University of Wisconsin-Superior journalism graduate. Lifelong musician, and former open mic host. Passionate about the music scene and politics.

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