Album Review: Coy Bowles — Love Takes Flight
When Zac Brown started his Southern Ground record label, Coy Bowles’ Love Takes Flight was exactly the type of project he had in mind. Throwing genre classification to the wind, it was to be a place for great musicians to follow their own muses and make music that moved the artist. No boxes were to cage the artists in. Bowles, proficient on vocals, organ, saxophone, piano, bass and electric and acoustic guitar showcases a similar diversity in production and musical stylings. Similar to fellow Southern Ground artist Sonia Leigh’s, Bowles uses a broad brush to paint the outside of the proverbial box.
Like a chameleon, Bowles’ thoaty vocals shift wildly and draw comparisons to an eclectic array of artists on every track. “Love Train” opens up with a funky R&B beat reminiscent of Ivan Neville. “Hold On” feels a bit like Ryan Adams but with more of a red-dirt influence. “Follow the Sun” is classic Billy Joel on piano. He channels his inner Gavin DeGraw on “My Heart’s On Fire,” a duet with Janis Joplin sound-alike Sonia Leigh. “Living My Life” starts out with a Kentucky Headhunters-ish Southern rock opening before morphing into a full-on instrumental with jazz horns. “The Healing” has a little Michael Buble groove with classic Zac Brown Band harmonies. “Sailing Away” could be a Preservation Hall jam band session. Bowles dials it back with a little Harry Connick, Jr. vibe on “So Long So Long.”
Even with this wide variety of styles, the strongest song on the record, a fantastic gritty and eerie story-song called “This Ol’ Town,” stands apart from all of the rest. It tells the tale about karma coming back around to bite a physical abuser. It develops a mixed array of emotions with the lyrics and questions that it poses. When is it okay to strike back? Is an eye for an eye okay if it ends the cycle of abuse? These are deep and hard issues and Bowles does a great job making the listener internalize these questions through a well-told tale, singing “This ol’ town is gonna go to Hell/One last wish from the wishing well/Hug your momma and say a prayer/See you in the morning if we make it there.” It also features a wicked Santana-like guitar solo at the end.
This multitude of comparisons aren’t meant to suggest for a moment that Bowles and his team are trying to “knock-off” the artists mentioned. If anything, his knack for storytelling gives the album some lyrical teeth not often found on the pop music side of the equation. Sure, the production is all over the map, but this clearly is part of the Zac Brown plan. For anyone who has seen or listened to a Zac Brown Band live performance, you instantly recognize that it’s a huge jam session where each song can take off on a life of its own. Instrumentation, rhythm and style is to the whim of the musician who holds the instrument during their turn at the solo. Bowles has applied this methodology to his album, letting each song develop unto itself with a style that may not always match the others.
Does that map work? Most of the time. Bowles seems most at home running things loose with more of an R&B vibe, particularly when the horns are introduced. Some of that nightclub energy is lost on some of the slower numbers like “So Long So Long.” While the unevenness makes it hit and miss based on personal preference of music genre used on that particular track, it’s tied together with great musicianship. Love Takes Flight is distinctive, diverse, and eclectic But most of all, it’s interesting as heck.
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