Album Review

Ronnie Bowman - Starting Over

Ronnie Bowman - Starting Over

This is Ronnie Bowman's third solo album, and his first since leaving the Lonesome River Band, one of the dominant bluegrass bands of the 1990s. Made with backing from longtime friends including Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, Barry Bales and Ron Stewart -- the last of whom pulls double-duty on banjo and fiddle, excelling on both -- it's a vivid, distinctive set that gets Bowman's new career off to a powerful start. Much of the credit goes to the songs, especially the half-dozen written or co-written by Craig Market. It's as powerful a pairing of writer and singer as country music has produced in years, for though the songs run squarely in a bluegrass groove, they have a subtle sophistication that marks them as thoroughly modern, while Bowman's interpretations reflect the same kind of artistic double vision. Starting Over stands out in other ways, too. Always an emotionally convincing singer, Bowman cuts especially close to the bone here, reflecting a tumultuous period during which he divorced, left the LRB and moved to Nashville. There's a lot of heartbreak on the album, along with recrimination, regret and defiance, but there are also songs such as "One Life" -- though he's a fine writer, it's the only one here in which Bowman had a hand -- and "Rise Above", which offer a measure of generosity and hope. Taken as a whole, it's about as confessional as bluegrass has ever gotten, and a compelling piece of work.