After 25 years in the music business, Brent Rowan has one word for what he wants out of a song: believable.
"Kid Rock's song, 'Picture,' that he did with Sheryl Crow is not perfect, but he means it," Rowan said. "He screams. It's a country song, but when he lets it loose, when he screams it, I'm in. I believe him."
And it's that element of believability that he looked for in every track on his new album, "Up & at 'em," to be released at All That Jazz on Thursday.
"You have to be able to feel it," he said. "It needs to communicate with someone's heart and not their head. I don't believe a lot of music.
"When I finished a song, I listened to what I just played and even if it was perfect, I played it again until I believed it."
Rowan's new release features 12 original compositions. The music is simple enough that it isn't distracting as background music, but it's also musically deep enough that it's worth the time to listen closely.
"Up & at 'em" is a kind of music class wherein Rowan introduces us to the different styles through the pared down teaching voice of the acoustic guitar.
Two of the biggest lessons come in the songs "Lafayette" and "Wastin' Time."
"Lafayette" is a fun and bluesy tribute to the music of New Orleans.
"('Lafayette') reflects those old guys, living in the extremely segregated South," Rowan said. "Music was giving them hope that they didn't have. They lived their dreams through the music. They had to go inside."
Their music is believable, he said. It's real.
"I've always been drawn to the kind of music made by people who are going to do it whether they make a dime or not."
Rowan's song "Wastin' Time" pays tribute to the Steve Cropper era of Memphis music, he wrote in the liner notes.
Cropper was a rhythm guitarist and songwriting partner of Otis Redding and a founding member of Booker T. and the MG's. Cropper was involved in almost every record issued by the Stax record label in the 1960s.
"To me, again, 'Wastin' Time' is about embracing a style of music that I consider real," Rowan said. "I'm reading a book right now called 'Sweet Soul Music' about Muscle Shoals and about Macon, Georgia, where Otis Redding came from.
"I don't want those guys to think that the new generation doesn't appreciate everything they did to get us where we are today."
Rowan calls the overall sound of his new album "folky soul" or "acoustic folk," but he's wary about pinning himself down as a musician.
"I'm a great music lover," he said, "I think if you cross Chet Atkins, Leo Kottke and Mark Knopfler, that's me.
"I have so many styles that I love. Most people that have done session work have a specialty, but I don't. My deep place is in the blues and ragtime. And I love bluegrass and country and rock, too."
The album opens with a song called "Travel On."
In the liner notes, Rowan writes: "Sometimes in life after you've tried as hard as you know how to make situations work, and they don't, you simply have to pull up stakes and travel on to preserve your sanity as well as the sanity of those around you."
As a record producer and established session musician working in Nashville, Rowan finds himself around a lot of struggling artists.
"I see people who are pursuing their dreams, and they don't make it," he said. "I'm living mine, but I have to tell a lot of people that you've got to lift your head up and move on."
Part of the song's message came from his experience producing a new country talent named Joe Nichols.
Nichols was released from two labels before finding a label that loved his music. His album, Rowan's first production effort, was nominated for a Grammy.
Rowan thinks that it's almost easier to tell a story through an instrumental song. You introduce the idea in the title, he said, "and you can take someone on a journey in their mind."
"Up & at 'em" was engineered by Nashville legend Gary Paczosa, who works with Dolly Parton, Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss.
Rowan chose Paczosa for his ability to make natural, "wooden" sounding records that don't sound processed. Rowan, a part-time Steamboat resident, is releasing his new album for the first time at All That Jazz. He will perform and sign copies of his album.
"I chose to do my world premiere in Steamboat, instead of at a place like Tower Records in Nashville," Rowan said. "I am totally honored to present it here. Steamboat is like my family. You guys have always treated me like I was important and loved."
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