For fans of the genre, John Bowman is a familiar name and voice. An experienced evangelist and Grammy-nominated, multi-instrument master, Bowman's fingerprints and plucked chords are undeniably interspersed across decades of Christian music ministry. With such an impressive resume, it's challenging to approach his newest solo album with anything but unbridled optimism. Fortunately, this hopeful anticipation is not misplaced.
Beautiful Ashes earns its title as it is indeed a beautiful record, characterized by wonderful testimony and peak displays of Bowman's distinguished musicianship. As one moves through each track, various instruments enter the album's formulation and blend together seamlessly, introducing diversity without ever overpowering the listener. The sound is rich, but through all of its complexity the album remains surprisingly balanced. For instance, "Caiaphas' Blues" a foot-stomping bluegrass anthem, is followed directed by the prayerful, piano-driven "Sweet River." In between, lie tunes like "Let The Hard Times Roll," "Ashes" and "Reach of His Hand," which serve to span the difference with catchy, melodic gospel hymns that add to the experience rather than just fill space. This continuum between the tracks is important, as it flavors the release and holds the audience's attention in a way 11 tracks of steady banjo picking simply could not.
While it is in structural equilibrium that Bowman's songwriting expertise becomes readily apparent, perhaps the most notable aspect of the album is its strikingly simple production. The record knows what it wants to be and humbly fulfills its own promise with discretion, a technique that is necessary if not indispensable to appropriately craft such a rich sonic offering. Happily, Bowman has the perfect voice to accomplish such a task; his charming vocals decorate the album like a cake topped with just the right amount of frosting. With a solid foundation built on stories of God's amazing power and faithfulness, it's impossible not to sit back and enjoy the finished product.
Overall, Beautiful Ashes lives up to the high standards that Bowman's own career demands. Equal parts intricate and humble, the album boasts a balance essential for such a talented musician and ultimately delivers a highly enjoyable display of faith and worship. In the end, this is the decisive purpose of the album: joyful praise. Above all musical talent and instrumental performance, Bowman holds his testimony. Relentlessly cycling Christ-centered material like a true preacher, he attaches each track in turn to the all-important, pervading theme that God is good. So, with a hand on his six string and eyes on his savior, John Bowman continues to tread an exemplary path through Christian music. While Beautiful Ashes will surely be placed as another feather in this artist's already crowded cap, it also will serve as an effective evangelistic tool to afford his ministry center stage. And in the end, that is clearly the reason he sings.
- Review date: 12/7/15, written by Jeremy Barnes of Jesusfreakhideout.com