Ralston Bowles’s father played the fiddle, guitar and banjo in the Appalachia hills before he moved to Gary, Indiana to work the Steel Mills. With instruments throughout the house Ralston learned early they were for making music not just hanging around. Ralston's first professional job was at the age of 16 when he was asked to make up one of his story songs for a neighborhood party.
After graduation he found himself playing in clubs and coffeehouses throughout the Midwest making up songs about the people and places he visited. His songwriting has been lauded by many, and his songs have been performed and recorded by Caroline Aiken, Peter Mulvey and Rachael Davis. He received numerous awards for his writing from a variety of organizations including American Songwriter Magazine, NSAI/CMT, Unisong and the ISC (International Song Competition) and As A Kerrville New Folk Finalist. He even found himself opening for such artists as Shawn Colvin, T-Bone Burnett and Arlo Guthrie. But it was only after years of coaxing he found himself recording his own material with producer Marvin Etzioni.
The recording, "Carwreck Conversations", earned him triple Jammy Awards locally and recognition as best musician in West Michigan by Grand Rapids Magazine. It has also opened doors for his doing more outside the Midwest, and lead him to his first commercial release through Judy Collins’ Wildflower Records.
He has become a bi-annual favorite at Boston's Club Passim. He has continued to build on the relationships and music opportunities which has led him completing a second disc with producer Marvin Etzioni (to be released on Wildflower Records late 2008) and includes the talents of Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams, Slaid Cleaves, Ray Wylie Hubbard) and Radoslav Lorkovic (Greg Brown, Jimmy Lafave, Odetta) and Charlie Sexton (Bob Dylan).
He was chosen to represent West Michigan's Music Community at Rothbury Fest opening for Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan.
Carwreck Conversations / Rally at the Texas Hotel
Producer: Marvin Etzioni / Marvin Etzioni
Rec. & Eng.: David Vaught / Stu Sullivan
Bass Guitar: Sheldon Gomberg
Drums: David Raven / Jagoda
Pedal Steel: Eric Heywood / Gurf Morlix
Keyboards: Danny McGough / Radaslov Lorkovic
Percussion: Brian Head
Special guest appearance by Lowen & Navarro / Charlie Sexton
Debut Full Length "Carwreck Conversations"
Winter in West Michigan (Light a Candle)
Stand Together (Remember)
Words (Paper Moon)
Weep With You
Wish I Knew
I, Love, You!
Ralston Bowles Profile
Must-see Performer at Club Passim's Cutting Edge
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Club Passim's Cutting Edge He's been singing and strumming since the late 1960's, but it wasn't u...Club Passim's Cutting Edge
He's been singing and strumming since the late 1960's, but it wasn't until last year that Ralston Bowles was finally ready to commit his songs to an album. His disc, "Carwreck Conversations," has all the trappings of a wise sage in storytelling mode without resorting to bitterness or preachy choruses. Lyrically clever and musically catchy, music hasn't addressed mid-life with this much dignity since Neil Young's "Freedom."
A musician who's on the right road.
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A musician who's on the right road. If Ralston Bowles had simply the written the 10 songs on Carwrec...A musician who's on the right road. If Ralston Bowles had simply the written the 10 songs on Carwreck Conversations he could have sat back content with his day's work. But to then go out and record an album of this quality is more than many achieve in a career.
There is an unyielding strength about his music, not the 'macho pose' struck by many but a deep rooted sense of what's right. If his music's anything to go by then Ralston's the guy I'd like beside me in a tough spot. In the two minutes of What Kind Of Friend - the opening track – he stops you dead in your tracks with the sheer weight of his words.
The album's well named because by the end of it you feel like you've been in a car wreck (in a good way). A sensation confirmed by You Already Know That, the scorching guitars blaze a trail for the lyrics. The analogies in the song take little deciphering, I suspect that Ralston's not a man for the obscure suggestion.
My advice on surviving listening to "What About Me" and "Fragile" is to take a deep breath and hope for the best. You'd have to be emotionally dead not to be affected by such raw, personal statements, bearing the soul doesn't come close to covering them.
If Steve Earle ever gets back to writing 'chick songs' he may find that "What About Me" got there before him. And the Earle connection doesn't end there, although Ralston isn't overtly political, he and Earle share a burning desire to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. "Draper" may set its sights a little lower but in a quieter, more humble way it's as telling a statement as anything on Jerusalem.
But even in this uncompromising trip through some wonderful American guitar rock Ralston leaves little chinks of light. Everybody But You is cynically optimistic while "James Dean" is a 'live young, die fast' anthem. However a word of caution, nothing is at it first seems on Carwreck Conversations. Grace for one is a great song but don't miss the opportunity to listen a little deeper.
The only personal details that accompanied the album said that Ralston Bowles was from Grand Rapids, sums up the album beautifully it's both grand and rapid. -Michael Mee
Well worth the wait: Long reluctant about releasing a CD, Ralston Bowles relents
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By John Sinkevics Ralston. Hard to find many musicians in Grand Rapids' folk and rock scene who d...By John Sinkevics
Ralston. Hard to find many musicians in Grand Rapids' folk and rock scene who don't know Ralston Bowles by his first name, who don't recognize his prodigious songwriting talent, who haven't wondered when this Dylan-esque singer would finally release his first studio album.
After performing regularly in West Michigan for more than three decades, Bowles' much-anticipated recording debut, "Carwreck Conversations," goes public on Monday at a CD-release party at Frederik Meijer Gardens.
What took him so long?
"I just never really felt the need to (record an album)," said Bowles, of Grand Rapids, who began performing at coffeehouses and folk festivals in the late 60s. "It was all about the live music.
"And all the stories I ever heard about music as an industry, it wasn't nearly as organic as the music was. It's a little ominous. It was mostly just the fear of locking down something (a version of a song) so that's the way it always is."
But a friend convinced Bowles -- who after some coaxing will concede he's "approaching 50" -- to view a recording as nothing more than a photograph.
"You take photographs throughout your life to catalogue that along the way," said Bowles, who drops his surname and plugs himself simply as Ralston at concerts and on his Web site.
Still, he admits to being nervous about release of his first musical snapshot, which contains 10 original songs. "Having a record come out is like having 10 daughters get married on the same day," said Bowles, who works as marketing coordinator for Citadel Broadcasting Company, which owns four Grand Rapids radio stations. "You send them out in the world, and they might come back to visit occasionally."
Bowles needn't fret: Those who've heard advance copies of the disc insist it's worth the wait.
"Carwreck Conversations" is chock-full of the smart and catchy, rock- and folk-tinged material that has long made Bowles a coveted performer throughout the Midwest. Ranging from Lyle Lovett-like tracks to the striking, unforgettable folk-rock hook that drives "James Dean," the CD was recorded earlier this year at Camp David studio in Los Angeles with producer Marvin Etzioni and engineer David Vaught at the helm. A singer-songwriter, producer and founder of the band Lone Justice, Etzioni has worked in the past with the Counting Crows, Peter Case and Toad the Wet Sprocket.
Word about Bowles -- selected as a finalist in the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas earlier this year -- has spread in recent months: Noted producer T-Bone Burnett considered using Bowles' "What Kind of Friend" and "Draper" in the soundtrack for "Cold Mountain," an upcoming feature film starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger.
Even if the songs don't make the final cut, Bowles remains flattered that the tracks, thanks to Etzioni and others, ended up in the hands of Burnett, one of the music industry's most respected producers. His tunes were considered for the soundtrack along with material by Elvis Costello and Sting.
Bowles has long rubbed elbows with some highly vaunted artists. The singer-songwriter actually opened for T-Bone Burnett at a 1999 Calvin College show, and over the years he's shared concert bills with Shawn Colvin, Hothouse Flowers, Chuck Brodsky and Peter Mulvey.
For Bowles none of that matters as much as the music itself or as much as shaping the best songs that he can for his audiences.
"It's about the song. The song is really the focal point," he said. "We're sort of just conduits. A good song can take people places and tell people things that they'd never experience any other way. If the song is good, there's not much you can do to kill it."
CD Release Event Is A Hit
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It may have been the first folk-rock CD-release party ever to feature a harpist and a mandolin-playi...It may have been the first folk-rock CD-release party ever to feature a harpist and a mandolin-playing record producer as opening acts ... and a self-effacing headliner who didn't even start selling his new CD until midway through the evening.
But Grand Rapids folk singer Ralston Bowles' unusually entertaining concert and CD-release bash at Frederik Meijer Gardens last week had the rapt attention of a hefty, appreciative crowd of more than 250 people who cheered the songwriter as he performed selections from his debut, "Carwreck Conversations."
"I was kind of overwhelmed by the response of it all," said Bowles, who will donate more than $500 from Monday's CD sales to the Angel Tree, which provides Christmas gifts to the children of prison inmates.
The evening began with Puck Faire harpist Jim Spalink entertaining guests, followed by Los Angeles' "mandolin man," Marvin Etzioni, a veteran singer-songwriter who produced Bowles' CD. Etzioni, who turned heads as he performed emotional acoustic renditions of his original tunes, said Bowles' new album "deserves to be listened to and deserves to be cherished."
For his part, Bowles felt humbled by the adulation heaped upon him.
"I have a hard time with the focus," conceded Bowles, who didn't have event co-sponsor WYCE (88.1 FM) break out copies of his CD for record-buyers until after Etzioni's set. "This is a lot like being at your own funeral."
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"...mature, thoughtful portrait of age, youth...the place where dreams and truth collide." ..."...mature, thoughtful portrait of age, youth...the place where dreams and truth collide."
- Grand Rapids Press
"... an album of this quality is more than many achieve in a career." - Americana-UK
"Lyrically clever and musically catchy, music hasn't addressed mid-life with this much dignity since Neil Young's "Freedom."" - Boston Globe
Mostly Original Songs - occasional covers by Dylan, Stones, CCR, Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson or The Beatles.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.