What is it about the Scots? This very singular nation has a habit of providing us with musicians who embody the distinctive moral codes and melancholic world-view of a people with Celtic lineage, hardened by inclement weather, largely working-class politics, dry humour and a romantic streak as wide as the Firth of Forth. It’s a potent combination seen in generations of artists, from Maggie Bell to Roddy Frame, Karine Polwart, Justin Currie, David Byrne and King Creosote. Already five albums into a career largely under the radar, it could be time to start including Dean Owens in the list.
In the Green Note’s basement bar, Dean Owens short introduction to his latest album Into The Sea provided all the evidence required that the warm tones and easy melodies contained therein aren’t the product of studio magic; the man can sing. The album is full of great little stories wound around ear-worm-generating tunes and the man from Leith delivered six of them to a receptive audience. He opened with two of the best, the returning soldier’s tale Closer To Home shedding a positive light on the reunions that occurred in millions of homes across the country after the war, and Kids (1979), a brilliant piece of nostalgia that strips away any attempt at rose-tinting and harbours more than a little biography in its clever lyric about sundered school friends.
There’s a default self-deprecating mode in a lot of Scottish songwriters and Owens is no different, apologising for bringing the bad weather with him (oh, the stereo-types!) and pointing out that the studio cuts include a fuller band sound. Up On The Hill is a ‘rocker’ apparently, but none of its recorded shuffle and slide is lost in the keening delivery, which results in both immediate gratification and a mental note to revisit the studio version on the way home. The Only One slows things down before he finishes with the ridiculously catchy Valentine’s Day In New York; ‘There’s ice floating down the Hudson river / A patch of blue sky on the Jersey side / Liberty takes everything I give her / We all need a place to hide’ and new single Evergreen.
Six songs, six possible singles; it really is that strong an album and he didn’t play Virginia Street, which is possibly the strongest cut. The well-informed crowd are appreciative and there’s plenty of industry types hanging around afterwards that can (and do) promote Owens to a wider audience so here’s wishing the journey was of value. Let’s hope Owens doesn’t leave it long before returning south of the border again; the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the poetry of the north is one us dour English types never fail to surrender to.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Into The Sea is Out Now via Drumfire records
Order via Amazon