Bones Owens Brings Rock, Stomp, and Swamp On Bold S/T Debut (ALBUM REVIEW)

The self-titled, full-length debut from Bones Owens hits hard with his blend of ’60s garage-rock, Hill Country blues, and swampy roots-rock – just call it rock, stomp, and swamp for short. Don’t think country based on the cover photo where he dons a white Stetson, yet Owens has plenty of the outlaw spirit. With production from studio owner Paul Moak, a five-time Grammy Award nominee who’s also worked with Joy Williams, Marc Broussard, and The Blind Boys of Alabama in Nashville, Owens’ adopted hometown, he and Owens enlist drummer Julian Dorio (Eagles of Death Metal, The Whigs) and bassist Jonathan Draper (All Them Witches), recording live to tape as a power trio. “This album really came from opening for some good people over the last few years, from feeding off that energy from the crowd and wanting to write more songs that would feel exciting to play live,” says Owens, who has recently toured with Reignwolf and Whiskey Myers. “It felt like the right approach to keep the production simple and record everything to tape – I think it creates a good type of nervousness that brings out the best in everyone. Nobody wants to be the one to mess up the take. Besides, all my favorite records were made that way. You can’t fake that sound.”

Opening with the aptly named “Lightning Strike,” Owens and his bandmates are in high gear from the outset. In the vein of one of his favorite inspirations, Creedence Clearwater Revival, these dozen songs are in the two-three-minute range where Owens rips out short incendiary guitar licks in the breaks. There’s definitely a heavy Hill Country feel to “Good Day” and brash punk infuses “White Lines.”  Owens has a penchant for choruses and background vocals which appear on every track. “When I Think About Love” leans toward garage-rock while the surging chords of “Wave” speak to more radio-friendly fare. “Blind Eyes” is another with infectious, swaying energy.

The unrelenting frenetic energy remains unabated in the second half, kicking off with the impossibly loud “Keep It Close,” for which there is a popular video. Owens comments, ’Keep it Close’ is the earliest written and recorded song on the album. It set the tone for where I wanted to go. We shot the video pre-pandemic last December. We were going for a simple performance video. I was inspired by some short performance art films by Hedi Slimane. We sort of mixed that vibe and visual treatment with the stoic black and white performance of the Stones performing ‘Time is On My Side’ on Ed Sullivan. ‘Keep it Close’ just has this classic feel to it, and I wanted a video that matched that simplicity and straightforwardness.”

Like most of the music Owens creates, this was mostly written in what he refers to as “a jail-cell-sized room at my house out in the country, overlooking my neighbor’s pasture and horses.” Having left the city to return to something resembling his roots, he purposely filled his writing room with the countless treasures and knickknacks he’s gathered over the years. “My mom owned an antique store when I was a kid—we actually lived above it—and so I’ve always had this love for old things,” says Owens, who worked as an antique dealer for several years “For me inspiration is environmental,” he says. “Most of the time my songs come from me just sitting down with a guitar, surrounded by all of my favorite stuff.”

 With Bones Owens written in the pre-pandemic days, Owens hopes that the album’s unbridled spirit might provide some much-needed uplift to his audience. “When I made this record, I obviously had no idea that the world was going to be so completely changed by the time it came out,” he says. “This record for me was about a transformative time in my life. It was about loss and pain, but also about love and finding a way out of a dark time. I feel like these are all emotions and sentiments I find myself connected to just as much now as when they were written.”

”Ain’t Nobody” has a simple, repetitive riff that qualifies it for the best album stomper. Interestingly, even with its palpable energy, it comes off as somewhat tame in comparison to its predecessor. “Come My Way” has a stomping garage-rock quality as well. “Country Man” features an unleashed guitar solo amidst the power chording which continues in “Tell Me’ and in the closer, “Keep On Running,” the latter of which is a bit more melodic and singable. If you’re looking for quiet moments, they are not to be found. Instead, this is one of those meant for your car radio – turn it up and go!


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