Veteran Anchorage recording artist Jonathan Bower considers albums ‘books he’s not writing.’ His third album, ‘Light Years’ takes the next postmodern leap, with 10 tracks not just inspired by, or derivatives of influential artists, but actually homages to the songs that made him the musician he is today.
“’Light Years’ is kind of like me looking at a passage of time and focusing on a period of time that was very musically influential on me at a critical time in my life,” Bower said, pointing specifically to track 4 called ‘Eraser (Song for Trace)’ dedicated to the 1995 album ‘Trace’ by Son Volt, a project band that featured Jay Farrar from Uncle Tupelo and Jeff Tweedy from Wilco. “That was kind of a wink and a nod toward that song — and there’s a song for John Prine on there too.”
In his third album, Bower runs right over the speed bumps of metaphor in songs like ‘John Prine’ where his character, tired and lonely from life’s bumpy road declares he’s gotta find (his inner) John Prine.
This, he said, is a departure from the themes of his previous two albums.
“The first two records I made were a lot of catharsis,” Bower said. “I was going through a deep transition in my personal life.”
Those life changes, also changed the supporting crew Bower found to cut the new album, which he’ll debut in concert Friday night in an album launch show at the 49th State Brewing Company.
“The last two records were kind of patchwork, just full of Anchorage musicians,” Bower said. “Also, getting more active in the Anchorage music scene, with this record, everything became proximal. I found five to six musicians to work the songs with me. With the first two (albums), I’d see a guitar player I liked and a drummer and grab them, and so the last two records had a good flavor of the span of Anchorage music, but this is more just sticking to five guys. It’s more like a band, not so much a pastiche.”
Bower, with his acoustic guitar, is joined on the album by James Glave on electric guitar, Silas Hoffman on bass, Cameron Cartland on drums, Alex Crover on keyboards, Bryan Steele on pedal steel and banjo, Beth Chrisman on fiddle and Evan Phillips on just about everything.
Jeff Abel, with Northbound Productions is putting on Friday’s show at 49th State, where Bower will be joined by the likes of Matt Neely, of Modern Savage, Kat Moore of the Super Saturated Sugar Strings, just to name a couple. Nick Carpenter from Medium Build gets the night started at 6:30 with Bower stepping to the stage at around 9:30.
That sort of backing is encouraging for veteran Anchorage musicians like Bowman, who prefers to see it as a community moreso than a scene.
“I’m not really keen on scene. That always suggests something very temporal, like a blip on a screen,” he said. “There’s always going to be great things happening; I might just not be part of it, or I may not be as active.”
The key to a strong scene, Bower agrees, is a dependable scene. In his 6 to 7 years in and out of ‘the scene’, he has found Anchorage a more difficult place for artists like him to gig steadily.
“That’s impacted where the scene can commune,” Bower said. “There definitely was a stronger sense of community when Tap Root was here.”
Since opening, 49th State Brewing has come on as a steady place for local musicians like Bower to draw crowds.
“I think they have a great room and I hear a lot of bands are pleased with the response in that room,” Bower said. “It still feels like there’s something between 49th State and the Blue Fox that could really do well if the right minds get into it. Ideally it would be something the size of Tap Root. Most cities have a mid-level club like that and that’s where the local acts really thrive.”
When he’s not writing, recording or performing music, Bower works at a mental health center and as a freelance writer and, when demand calls, a creative writing instructor at UAA.
“I’m not teaching it this term; maybe next year. Everything is in flux; I need enough students to say they want to take creative writing,” Bower said. “I love it. If there was full-time work doing that, I’d slide right in.”