The self-titled, full-length debut from Bones Owens is a selection of songs both gloriously gritty and undeniably euphoric. In a bold departure from the moody Americana of his acclaimed EPs Hurt No One and Make Me No King, the Missouri-bred musician’s first release with Thirty Tigers delivers a powerful sound deeply inspired by ’60s garage-rock, Hill Country blues, and the swampy roots-rock of bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival (“the first record I remember stealing from my dad when I was ten and just starting to play guitar,” according to Owens). A potent showcase for his formidable guitar work—a talent he’s displayed in performing with artists as eclectic as Yelawolf and Mikky Ekko—Bones Owens arrives as a full-tilt expression of Owens’ wildest impulses, all swinging rhythms, and swaggering riffs.
Featuring heavily playlisted hits like “White Lines” and “Keep It Close,” Bones Owens came to life at The Smoakstack in Owens’ adopted hometown of Nashville. 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—the album finds Owens joining forces with drummer Julian Dorio (Eagles of Death Metal, The Whigs) and bassist Jonathan Draper (All Them Witches), recording live to tape and infusing each track with a frenetic vitality.
“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’s 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.”
From the opening track, Owens’ instincts prove to be right on target. Built on shuffling drumbeats and snarling guitar tones, “Lightning Strike” matches its sultry groove with plenty of devil-may-care attitude (an element that extends to the track’s video, wherein a Stetson-clad Owens kicks back in a boozy motel-room bubble bath). While Owens wrote most of the album on his own, “Lighting Strike” emerged from a session with co-writer Kevin Griffin (Moon Taxi, The Struts, Blondie), whose three-string cigar box guitar sparked a sudden burst of inspiration. “I remember gravitating toward that guitar - it didn’t really sound good, and there wasn’t much you could do with it, but it brought out this rhythmic thing that just sort of dictated the direction of the song,” Owens recalls.
Throughout the album, Owens reveals his gift for drawing tremendous impact from taut songwriting. On “Keep It Close,” he shares a slow-burning epic whose chorus offers something of a mantra for living with conviction in a soul-crushing world (i.e., “You gotta keep it close to your heart/Or you’re gonna go blind”). One of the most mercurial moments on Bones Owens, “Wave” unfolds in dramatically shifting tempos, with Owens’ brooding vocals channeling the pain of being betrayed by a former confidant. On “Good Day,” that pain transforms into fiery self-assurance, the track’s exultant mood magnified by the sublime background vocals of Regina McCrary (a legendary gospel singer known for her work with Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy). And on “Blind Eyes,” Owens presents the album’s most languid number, a darkly charged meditation
on emotional limits. “That one’s somewhat nostalgic, talking about some of the more decadent periods in my life,” he notes. “It’s the story of the death of a relationship and destructive way of life.”
Raised in rural Missouri, Owens took up guitar as a kid and soon began writing songs centered on his decidedly poetic lyrics. Although he studied creative writing in college, he eventually dropped out and moved to Nashville upon landing a publishing deal at the age of 21. Over the coming years, Owens made his name as an in-demand session and touring guitarist, then broke through as an artist with Hurt No One (a 2014 release featuring appearances by musicians like Butch Walker and Relient K’s Matt Thiessen). Arriving in 2017, Make Me No King earned him further accolades, leading to his signing with Thirty Tigers in 2019.
Like most of the music Owens creates, Bones Owens was largely 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 tchotchkes 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. With his stash including everything from the sentimental to the nonsensical—a collection of Native American arrowheads unearthed by his grandfather while working in Missouri’s fruit orchards, taxidermied coyote heads adorned with vintage motorcycle helmets—Owens considers that space essential to his creative process. “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.”