FIRST LISTEN: Hear Philip Bowen’s Debut Album ‘Old Kanawha’ Exclusively On Whiskey Riff Before Its Release On Friday

Philip Bowen country music
Philip Bowen

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it 100 times: The best country music right now is coming out of Appalachia.

And West Virginia native Philip Bowen is keeping that trend alive.

If you’re not familiar with Philip, he burst onto the scene with his incredible TikTok videos of himself playing fiddle alongside some great country songs. But he’s not just a fiddle player: Philip’s an amazing singer and songwriter in his own right, and now he’s ready to share some of his own music with the world.

Announced back in May, Philip’s debut album Old Kanawha drops this Friday, August 18.

But we’ve got your first opportunity to hear it before it’s released right here on Whiskey Riff.

The 13-track album is deeply rooted in his Appalachian upbringing, something that Philip tells Whiskey Riff was important to him when he set out to make the project:

“I wanted to try my very best to do as much as humanly possible in West Virginia, Appalachia, with talent from the region.”

It’s that sense of place that shines through on the album, while still remaining relatable to those outside the mountains of West Virginia, on songs like the previously-released “Vampire in Appalachia” and the companion song that follows, “A Murder.”

Featuring Josiah and the Bonnevilles, “Vampire in Appalachia” tackles the harsh reality of living in a state that’s not only built on the coal industry, but that in some ways has been decimated by it – along with the resulting opioid crisis that followed:

“All the money leaves for Wall Street or some place across the seaThere ain’t enough to pay our teachers, and the drugs keep flowing freeIt’s hard to find a friend or neighbor who ain’t lost someone they loveAnd so the sick keep getting sickerWhile the rich keep getting richerThere’s a vampire in Appalachia, and we’re running out of blood”

Philip says that the heavy subjects of the two songs may be a little bit of a departure from the “warm and fuzzy” tracks on his album, but they’re a real look at life in Appalachia:

“Vampire in Appalachia is about two things. The first verse speaks to the extraction economy that happens there. If you grew up in that area, everybody has family or a friend that’s worked down in the coal mines.

But somehow some of those towns that have the biggest coal mines are some of the poorest in the state, and it’s because the money will leave. And so that does a lot of damage to the region.

And that’s kind of been a cause and effects type of thing with this opioid crisis. I have family and friends who have struggled with it and are struggling with it.

It doesn’t happen just in Appalachia, but there you feel it very vividly because of how it’s just turned people’s lives and families upside down. 

That was the imagery that was in my head, that kind of dark imagery of a vampire sucking the life out of a place. It’s not that the place isn’t valuable or doesn’t have special things to it, but it’s almost more tragic because of that.”

The follow-up song, “A Murder,” then looks at the opioid crisis through the eyes of somebody who’s struggling with active addiction – inspired by a friend of his own who was going through recovery.

And it’s these types of songs that are common on Old Kanawha. Whether it’s a lament on the struggles of people in Appalachia or an ode to its beauty with songs like “Lightning Bugs” and the title track, each song finds itself rooted in a time and place that gives it meaning that’s often lacking in country music.

The album not only features the duet with Josiah and the Bonnevilles, but also features another West Virginian on “Old Kanawha” with Charles Wesley Godwin. And most of the record was recorded in the Bridgeport, West Virginia studio of Zach McCord, who also plays electric guitar on the majority of the tracks.

There are also standout tracks like “Stella,” a tribute to his youngest daughter, and the album’s leadoff track “Heart on the Ground,” and of course the entire album features a healthy dose of Philip himself on the fiddle that’s made him such a star.

If you like the music coming out of Appalachia as much as I do right now, this is one you’re not going to miss – and with Philip currently blowing away the judges on America’s Got Talent, it won’t be long before this West Virginian is a household name far outside of Appalachia.

It’s an album that Philip’s excited for the world to hear, featuring stories that he’s proud of:

“My favorite thing about this album is the stories I get to tell and being able to do that in the way that I felt myself and my family could be proud of. 
This actually started as a four-song EP project, but I kept writing, and the songs kept coming. I was burning the candle at both ends and in December of 2022, when the album was all wrapped up, I was so burned out that I almost called the music thing quits and left it all on the shelf.
I went home to WV for the holidays and was feeling refreshed, and just a couple of days after Christmas, I got invited to be on Mountain Stage. This incredible honor breathed some new life into me, and I’m so thankful I kept going as 2023 kicked off with a bang. 
I debuted “Old Kanawha,” “Trees Grow High,” “Anymore,” and “Vampire in Appalachia” on Mountain Stage for a national radio audience on NPR, and it was truly a life-changing experience for me.
I am so proud of this album, and I hope that it can find an audience that loves it as much as I do. Big thanks to everyone at Whiskey Riff for all of your support! It means the world to me!”

Check out Old Kanawha here first, and make sure you pre-save the album on Spotify and Apple Music before it drops on Friday.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock