Bryan Bowers' Heartfelt Harp from The Washington Post
On his new album "By Heart," Bryan Bowers tells of a woman who called a club where he was appearing one night. "What does he play?" she asked. "Autoharp," she was told. After a long pause, the woman fi-nally broke the silence. "Auto parts?" she said.
If the autoharp isn't quite as well-known as it should be, you can't blame Bowers. Almost single-handedly, he's resurrected the instru-ment from Carter Family antiquity and placed it in a contemporary but tradition-oriented set-ting.
"By Heart" is a case in point. Filled with warmth and humor and more than its share of memorable songs, the album is a fine example of how Bowers has overcome the inherent limitations of what once was dubbed the "idiot zither." In Bowers' hands, the autoharp rings out in three distinctive octaves, and as the in-strumentals "I'll Fly Away" and "Shady Grove" attest, rhythmic, melodic and harmonic functions are tied together seamlessly.
Elsewhere, the music, much of it rooted in the Appalachian tradition, is further enhanced by Bowers' sensitive vocals, some splendid bluegrass and gospel harmonies on "Zen Gos-pel Singing" and Bowers' hand-picked session mates.
In fact, the contributions by The Seldom Scene, Sam Bush and Stephen Wade (of "Banjo Dancing") may be worth the purchase price alone.
The Review - 2/85
As the breaks and solos on this album indicate, Bowers has achieved exquisite tone and dynamic control on the autoharp. My favorite autoharp solos on this album include a contra-puntal version of "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and a piece written by Vivian Williams called "Ramparts." I also enjoyed the fiddle tunes - "Stony Point," "Road to Sligo/The Girl I Left Behind," and "Rickett's Hompipe" -but I felt the tempos were a bit too slow for fiddle music.
Of the vocal numbers, "Hot But-tered Rum," an affecting country ballad by Tommy Thompson, is sweet and mellow, while the two authentic gospel arrangements, "Ezekiel" and "I’ll Fly Away," feature some excellent choral work from Bowers and his back-up musicians.
By Heart is a very well produced and well performed album that will more than satisfy Bowers enthusiasts and offer the uninitiated an excellent introduction to his work.
A gem of an album from one of the finest all-around entertainers on the folk and Bluegrass circuit. Autoharpist Bryan Bowers' new album is a lot like his live shows - a bit of this, bit of that, some traditional songs, some humorous numbers, even an autoharp "demonstration" (the latter on "Battle Hymn of the Republic"). Like his shows, this album is a valentine of a performance, sure to be enjoyed by traditional music fans and general listeners alike.
Some of the finest newgrass pickers around (including members of the Seldom Scene and the New Grass Revival) chip in here to help Bowers on new tunes like "Hot Buttered Rum" and "Black Heart" (the latter is a superb bal-lad written by Bryan), funny tunes (Including, finally, the glorious "Zen Gospel Singing" with its final line, "Om, om, sweet om!"), a batch of first-rate instrumentals ("I'll Fly Away," "Road to Sligo/The Girl I Left Behind Me") and a roof-raising version of the old gospel tune, "Ezekiel" (commonly known as "Ezekiel Saw the Wheel"), which features the harmony singing and playing of Sam Bush and John Cowan
Excellent job from a guy who's quickly becoming a national treasure.