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Longtime sideman Kevin Bowe finds time for solo album and tour

Kevin Bowe.jpg

Several years have passed between Kevin Bowe albums, and being reminded of this prompts a chuckle from the singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer.

It’s a comfortable-sounding laugh, as if Bowe knows that fact is going to come up sooner or later when talking about his latest effort, Natchez Trace, which is credited to him and the Okemah Prophets, his two-piece band.

In trying to explain why it took him so long, Bowe doesn’t blame writer’s block or Chinese Democracy-style drama.

“No Axl Rose for me,” Bowe says. “I’m from Minnesota. We’re meat-and-potatoes people with work ethics. I just didn’t have time to do my own record.”

He adds, “It just kind of got away from me, I think, because I do a lot of different things for a living in music. So it’s easy to get really busy.”

He’s not joking: Bowe makes music for TV and film, produces albums for other artists and has been a regular guitarist for Paul Westerberg and Alison Smith.

For his work in the studio and onstage with Smith, a soul singer from Minneapolis, Bowe teamed up with bassist Steve Price and drummer Pete Anderson, and now they’re his Okemah Prophets rhythm section, too.

“When I first started [my latest] album, “ Bowe says, “I took my time — probably about four or five years [stockpiling songs], just working when I had time to do it. So when I first started the album, we weren’t really a band. By about the second or third song in, all of a sudden I realized, ‘These are the guys.’ It kind of snuck up on me in an organic way.”

Speaking of organic, that’s how Replacements leader Westerberg likes to work these days, according to Bowe.

“He’s gotten into this place where musically he’s really interested in spontaneity above all else,” adds Bowe. “He’s not interested in overdubs or labored-over performances. He wants everything to be spur of the moment. That’s all well and good, but the only way that’s going to work is if you have four likeminded musicians.”

That’s the approach Westerberg took in September 2012 when he and ’Mats bassist Tommy Stinson, along with Bowe and Anderson, recorded four covers (credited to The Replacements) for the Songs for Slim project, a fundraiser for onetime Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap.

“We all have the same record collection, so there was no prep for that,” Bowe says. “That whole thing was done in four or five hours. I don’t think any of them were more than three or four takes. There are no overdubs, and there was very little mixing. I think the engineer sent these rough mixes to Tommy [under the assumption] ‘Give me the OK, and then I’ll do the real mix.’ And Tommy sent them to Paul, who said, ‘They’re done.’ So that’s where Paul is at right now.”
Bowe is ready now to do more work with Westerberg.

“I’m not hard to find,” says Bowe. “He does stuff when he wants to do it. I don’t think he’s particularly motivated by money. He’s on his own schedule. If he feels it, he does it, and when he doesn’t feel it, he doesn’t do it, and that’s just how it is. I just take it as it comes.”

In the meantime, Bowe will keep busy, like always. He has Okemah Prophets gigs booked for the spring and summer, and there’s the possibility of tour dates in Europe and Australia. As for his next album, Bowe says there will be another one with the Okemah Prophets, and he already has two or three songs written for it.

— By Chris M. Junior

Kevin Bowe and the Okemah Prophets on tour (schedule subject to change):

* March 25: Club Passim — Cambridge, Mass.
* March 26: Rockwood Music Hall — New York
* March 27: Rock Shop — Brooklyn, N.Y.
* March 28: The Saint — Asbury Park, N.J.
* March 29: Club Café — Pittsburgh
* March 30: Wise Fool’s Pub — Chicago