2015’s Into The Sea is perhaps the most perfectly realised of Dean Owens‘ albums rivalling Whisky Hearts for fans affections despite the presence of his two most iconic songs (Man From Leith and Raining In Glasgow) on the latter. Both albums were recorded in Nashville and both feature Owens’ long time compadre Will Kimbrough but Into The Sea, recorded seven years after Whisky Hearts is a better distillation of Owen’s Celtic Americana, the players and producer Neilson Hubbard at the top of their game. It’s also a more passionate album. At the time of recording Owens and his family were coming to terms with the death of his sister Julie from cancer, the album is dedicated to her. When I spoke to him about the recording of the album he said,” It was a difficult time for me when I was making the album for various reasons and a lot of that I poured into the song writing… It’s quite an emotional record… it was a time in my life when a lot of unexpected things, tragic things were happening and as a songwriter that comes through in your craft. “The song Evergreen in particular addresses his loss, it’s tender, affectionate and moving, happy memories recalled despite the sad reality. Owens sings powerfully here with some magnificent support vocally from Kim Richey.
Owens addressed other losses on Virginia Street, Kids (1979), The Only One and Sally’s Song (I Dreamed Of Michael Marra) but it would be false to describe the album as a series of eulogies. The opening song, Dora, a musical genealogy, is quite stirring and the glorious sweep of Up On The Hill is a celebration of open spaces and the opportunity they offer to reflect on and give thanks for the good things in life (along with an opportunity to hear some wicked slide guitar from Kimbrough). 18 months on from its release Into The Sea remains an album that stirs and invigorates and we can personally vouch for the power of these songs when delivered live with Dora and Up On The Hill especially moving. This Deluxe Edition adds four more songs to the album including one from the original sessions, Alison Wonderland, a song which fits snugly into the overall feel of the album with Kimbrough’s guitars keening throughout as Owens disappears down a rabbit hole of yearning. There’s Cotton Snow, previously only available digitally, Owens’ setting of a civil war battlefield which is wonderfully realised along with two songs recorded at the time of the Into The Sea sessions which didn’t make it into the studio process, here delivered as solo acoustic guitar and voice performances. Again one refers to shows we’ve seen over the past year, Owens with his band a mighty prospect but on his own he can still deliver and here Forgotten Shadows is a fine mix of memories and regret, faded pictures pored over with Owens in fine honeyed voice. Shadows appear again in his rendition of Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart, again it’s delivered perfectly and it dovetails perfectly with the overall sense of love, loss, memory and family.
If you haven’t got the original album then this release is a no brainer. For those who have it already then I suppose it depends on the degree of fandom but we can guarantee that if you do plunge then you won’t be disappointed. Having reviewed the original album here and Cotton Snow here it’s been quite invigorating to having to listen more carefully to the album for the purposes of this review and the bonus songs are now irretrievably entwined within the whole and it is an album that deserves to be on the shelves of any discerning music lover. Meanwhile Dean, with and without the Whisky Hearts continues to roam around the country with several dates coming up including full band shows in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh, all dates here.
Finally Dean and his band The Whisky Hearts appeared on Radio Scotland’s Quay Sessions last week and you can see them in their full glory here