Dean Owens is a regular feature at Perth’s Southern Fried Festival where, in addition to hosting the late night Songwriter Sessions, he is a star attraction in his own right. Last year Owens and his band, The Whisky Hearts played a blinder of a show that drew heavily from his album Into The Sea, a finely crafted blend of Celtic Americana which received rave reviews across the board. This year Owens doffed his hat to one of his heroes, Hank Williams with a show that featured him in a trio setting, The Celtabilly Allstars along with guitar whizz Stuart Nesbit and his former Felsons’ band mate Kevin McGuire on double bass. As on a previous venture, his tribute to the man in black, Cashback, Owens and his compadres selected a bunch of Hank written and Hank related songs to perform along with a self penned number, Celebrate The Life that hymned Williams’ life and works.
Despite the tears and tragedy of Williams’ words and life this was a joyous show. Stuart Nisbet’s lap steel playing along with McGuire’s dextrous bass work giving a fine hillbilly feel to the proceedings while Nesbit was in fine vocal form on the Gospel song Calling You. They opened with the excellent country lope and swagger of Setting The Woods on Fire which contrasted with the beer fuelled melancholy of You Were On My Mind, the music still at a fair clip but the youthful exuberance of Setting The Woods on Fire replaced by bitter experience. The show continued to alternate the exuberant side of Williams with his darker side. Hey Good Looking saw Nisbet switch from lap steel to his Gibson for a raucous ramble which was followed by a stellar version of Why Don’t You Love Me while My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It was a light humoured delight.
Owens reminisced about his first encounter with Williams courtesy of a friend who owned a record shop back in the day who played him Ramblin’ Man, Owens’ version today quite excellent, his voice capturing Williams’ hi and lonesome vocal break on the line endings. He also recalled his attempt to write in Williams’ style when back in The Felsons on a song called Dave, a warning to a friend about a treacherous woman. There were fine deliveries of Lost Highway and Your Cheatin’ Heart, the melancholia seeping through, Nisbet’s lap steel a mournful wail, before Owens sang his song, Celebrate The Life, a number delivered in the style of I Saw The Light with the audience joining in on the chorus as Owens entreated us to remember the “hillbilly Shakespeare” with his “songs of love and heartache, liquor, beer and tears“. The show ended with Owens alone on stage to deliver a spellbinding I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, a reminder not just of William’s genius but also that Owens has matured into a masterful performer, his voice rich and emotive along with a whistling solo that was just superb.
Dean Owens has several other shows lined up over the coming weeks (see here) but currently there are only two further outings for this Celtabilly Allstars show. One is tonight at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe and then in Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall on Wednesday 24th August. Aside from being a tremendous show these will be the only opportunity to buy a limited edition CD that The Celtabilly Allstars have recorded of Hank’s songs, Settin’ The Woods on Fire (Songs I Learned From Hank) which features most of the songs from the show including Celebrate The Life. It’s a fine listen that enlivened our journey back from Perth.