This is an entry in an ongoing series for 303 Magazine, which will provide a range of local album reviews. It is our intention to highlight the talents of local musicians, whether veterans to the industry or newcomers. Like the bands, the album can be fresh or something we just haven’t had the power to take off repeat in the past few months. Check out previous entries in the series here.
Boulder-based bluegrass band Bowregard has found the silver living during a historically slow live music season, releasing their first album just last month to a hungry local bluegrass fanbase. Like most bands and musicians right now, Bowregard has been forced to re-focus their summer plans from live shows to new music. Just as the fivesome had joined forces and finally found their groove as a band, winning the Telluride Bluegrass Band Contest last year and the Ullrgrass Bluegrass Band Contest the year before that, things took a grisly turn — but that hasn’t slowed down Bowregard at all. While we’ve been starving for music, they did us a solid by churning out a highly impressive debut album, Arrows.
The single “Fallen Angels” was released prior to Arrows and gave us a sweet taste of what to expect from this up-and-coming band whose sound exceeds expectations of one only a couple of years young. It was not that long ago that guitarist Max Kabat and banjoist James Armington were joining local jams, pickin’ away with each other and other like-minded musicians. That was where they serendipitously met bassist Zachary Smith and fiddler Colleen Heine, who had just moved to town. Once they’d played together, Kabat remembers, “it became apparent that our styles of music overlapped in the right ways, and our sounds really gelled together.”
The four formed around the idea of being a band, and the final addition of dobroist Justin Konrad, says Kabat, “rounded out our sound, and gave us an expressive bluegrass tone.” He recalls the win in Telluride in 2019 as “a forging moment for us.” Since then, Bowregard has been pushing full steam ahead in the face of a crowded local music scene and an impending pandemic. Not all is lost, however, because you can catch them play this weekend — on Saturday at Upslope’s Safer Summer Music Series, and on Sunday at Boulder Arts Outdoors. And once live shows do return in full, Bowregard will have plenty of material to help prove to Denver fans that they’re very much in the bluegrass game.
“Fallen Angels,” written by Kabat and the album’s first track, immediately boasts the highest quality and skill that Bowregard has to offer. The song is the first of a few highlights, the second of which is “High on a Mountain,” an old-timey tune that falls in line with traditional bluegrass, a beloved genre of both the band’s and of Kabat’s in particular. The back-to-back lineup of that tune followed by the banjo-heavy, Celtic-influenced instrumental “Cousin Sally Brown” firmly seals the deal only halfway through the album. The album’s namesake, “Arrows,” comes towards the end and oozes a wailing, country-grass sound that keeps up well with the genre’s fast-paced and high-tempo musicality.
While Kabat is the majority vocalist and songwriter, he expressed the importance of harmonies in the band’s sound and described the band as a collective. “Zachary, Colleen and James provide a web of articulate harmonies. We all trade-off, we all pull our weight.” It goes further than the music — with Colleen having designed the band’s artwork, coordinated the photography, and done the graphic design for their apparel. Overall, Kabat explained the five of them as having “a really awesome breadth of resources within our group.” This camaraderie is directly reflected in their music, and you can truly feel it throughout Arrows. Kabat also revealed that they’ve already “got a nice bulk of new material on another album soon,” which means once we’ve fallen in love with the debut album, we may, fortunately, find a second in its wake.