SCENE MUSIC REVIEWS
"Home, Home, on the Road"
Bryan Bowers (Flying Fish)
Rare, beautiful, with a powerful hidden punch.
Bryan Bowers is a phenomenon.
Virtually a self-taught autoharpist, he created his own five-fingered playing technique that makes the instrument multidimensional. But what is most amazing is that Bowers can take this quaint instrument and his own sometimes strident voice, forge them with his charismatic personality and create a beautiful, contemporary sound.
Bowers lovingly plays the classics, both in his road show and here - where he ripples through "Dixie," "Grandfather's Clock" and a Stephen Foster medley. He also can't pass up a ribald joke like the "Four Wet Pigs" or "The Scotsman," both lively additions onstage but rather stale on the turntable.
However, it's Bower's own compositions that evince the most strength in this album. John Denver's cover of "Berkeley Woman" always made me grit my teeth, but Bowers returns to his song both warmth and a sense of conflict.
And with "The Prison Song," Bowers transcends everything else here and demands both attention and respect. This may he the most powerful song Bowers' has ever written. It's certainly the most powerful I've ever heard him perform. The first time was in a wild and raucous festival situation; and when he finished this simple, horrifying, painfully honest admission, more than a few people were crying.
Bowers uses no melodrama, no romance to put his prison experience across. The truth is much more effective, delivered with the delicate touch of his autoharp.
This song alone is worth the price of the album.
Dirty Linen, June/July 91
Bowers is widely regarded as the leading virtuoso on the autoharp, and even if you've never heard anyone else play it, this album is pretty convincing proof of his superiority. He uses a five-finger pick-ing technique across 36 tightly wound strings, bathing the listener in ethereal, joyously resonant major chords in the folk idiom. Bowers also has distinct gifts as singer and songwriter His Berkeley Woman, a hit for John Denver, is delivered with a plaintive earnestness here. Similarly, his Prison Song is devastatingly bitter, but falls short of self-pity. In jail, the lyric observes, "If you wanna stay out of trouble/You only got two choices/You can be a Bible thumper/Or the crazy who hears voices." On several cuts Bowers gets superb support from mandolinist Sam Bush and members of a remarkable group, the Seldom Scene. Bowers' label, the Chicago-based Flying Fish Records, deserves special tribute for uncovering and preserving such giants of the folk genre