Redwood Mountain. The Glad Cafe, Glasgow. Thursday 28th September 2017

20170928_201733 copy“It’s misery at The Glad Cafe,” quipped Dean Owens, as he described the contents of Run Boy Run, a song about slavery. It’s one of the songs Owens has revitalised from a book, The Penguin Book Of American Folk Songs, edited by Alan Lomax, which was given to him as a gift some time back. To accommodate his reimagining of the songs Owens has teamed up with Scots fiddler, Amy Geddes, the pair forming Redwood Mountain, a perfect vehicle for these songs from the past with Geddes’ fiddle the perfect transatlantic bridge connecting the Celtic roots of many of the numbers with the high lonesome sounds of the Appalachians and the plains.

Owens, a successful singer and songwriter in his own right, comfortably inhabits songs such as Katy Cruel and Rye Whiskey as he’s long had a strong American element in his songs, Celtic Americana he calls it. On the album they have recorded, and live tonight, he displays his affinity with his chilling delivery of On The Range Of The Buffalo. The song, which tells of the mass slaughter of the buffalo in 19th Century America, a ploy to starve the Native Americans, allowed Owens to lower his voice to a grim level before swelling in the cowboy yodel of a chorus while Geddes provided a mournful counterfoil to Owens’ vocals. Their rendition of East Virginia was another showstopper; another dark ballad, it summoned up ghosts of the past with a chilling intensity.

P1070750 copy

It wasn’t all doom and gloom however as the pair joked back and forth between songs and even delivered a few upbeat numbers such as the stirring Railroad Man and Rye Whiskey while Delia’s Gone, perhaps the most familiar song of the night, was a delight with Owens delivering a very funny tale regarding the song. The audience sang along with Get Along Home, Cindy and Darlin’, a nonsense love song, not on the album but great fun indeed. Interspersed with the old folk songs were some Owens originals. Reservation Blues, another song inspired by the plight of Native Americans, tied in with the theme of the night while Strangers Again harked back to his first solo album. Geddes meanwhile offered up the wonderful instrumental, Amang The Braes O Gallowa before the pair delivered a beautiful version of Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song). Take It Easy, the one Owens original on the album and inspired by Woody Guthrie, ended the show on an upbeat note with the optimistic lyrics dispelling much of the gloom beforehand. Riding on the applause they then played on with a final song, This Land is Your Land, the audience joining in. A fine close to an excellent night.

Redwood Mountain

Advertisements

Redwood Mountain. Redwood Mountain

redwood-mountain-side-1-alt-desat-40-250x250Aside from his burgeoning career as a transatlantic bridge, linking Nashville to Leith Scots musician Dean Owens has delivered several projects over the past few years which have been more low key than his official solo albums. He’s recorded (and played live) tributes to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams with the albums available via his website and at gigs. Redwood Mountain follows this tradition but here Owens isn’t restricted to one artist, instead offering up his version of the great American songbook, not the one written by Gershwin et al but the songs that were first sung and handed on before they were written down. Songs that crossed the ocean with settlers and grew into the New World landscape, played on porches and at barn dances before they were eventually transcribed and then etched into shellac.

The catalyst for the recording was the gift to Owens of a book, Alan Lomax’s The Book Of American Folk Songs. First published in 1968 the book was a collection of 111 folk songs, ballads, sea shanties, work songs, cowboy songs and spirituals with Lomax adding chord charts and explaining the history and provenance of the songs. Intrigued by this wealth of traditional songs Owens set about rearranging some of them and in keeping with the sometime stark delivery of the earliest recorded versions decided to record them in a stripped down fashion. Thus was born Redwood Mountain, a duo of Owens and fiddle player Amy Geddes (with occasional double bass and piano from Kevin McGuire), the pair delving into the backwoods. Geddes of course is the fiddle player in Owens’ band The Whisky Hearts but here she’s riding point with Owens, her fiddle playing not only the second voice on the album but an essential connection to the Celtic roots of much of these Appalachian and high plains songs. This is evident on her rendition of the traditional Scots tune Amang The Braes O Gallowa, one of two numbers here not taken from the Lomax book but acutely delivered with an aching pull and which would not sound out of place on Nick Cave’s soundtrack for The Proposition.

They open with the devastating Katy Cruel, a song with strong Scottish roots and perhaps best known these days for Karen Dalton’s haunted version. Owens and Geddes are just stunning here, their delivery sending a chill up the spine and they capture this spectral aspect again on Fair Thee Well O Honey (also known sometimes as Dink’s song) with Geddes’ fiddle wraithlike at times. Owens’ lone voice on East Virginia (with Geddes adding an intermittent resonant fiddle) is another dark tale but that’s as murky as it gets as the remainder of the album, while still at times dwelling on misery, is somewhat more upbeat. Thus we get the waltz like Get Along Home Cindy and the slave runaway song Run Boys Run which finds Owens in fine voice and Geddes’ fiddle flying like Scarlet Rivera on Desire. Cowboys get a look in on the narrative of On The Range Of The Buffalo with Owens lowering into Cash territory with his vocals and there’s space for a railroad song (Railroad Man which roams into Woody Guthrie and big Bill Broonzy territory) while Rye Whiskey could be sung as easily in a Scots tavern as a hobo camp back in the thirties. Owens winds up the album with his own song, Take It Easy, But Take It which again is reminiscent of Guthrie as Owens adds some modern  commentary as he sings, “The homeless should always have shelter, the hungry should always have food, the sick should be helped to get better and the misunderstood understood.”

Dylan was scrabbling around the Lomax collections on his albums Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong while more recently Ags Connolly offered his selection of Cowboy songs and Redwood Mountain continue in this tradition. But the album that most comes to mind when listening to this is Billy Bragg and Joe Henry’s Shine A Light, another collection of Americana folklore and I’d certainly recommend to anyone who enjoyed that disc to give a listen to Redwood Mountain.

You can buy Redwood mountain here

 

Dean Owens & The Whisky Hearts. Drygate Glasgow. Friday 25th November

p1060232-copy

A welcome return to Glasgow for the Leith man with his fine band in tow, tonight’s show was an intimate affair despite the airy (and cool, temperature wise) bare girder barn like room in Tenants’ Drygate brewery. Set out cabaret style the tables were all taken by what seemed to be diehard supporters (as evidenced by requests for some deep cuts from Owens’ recording history); his own fault as he announced early on that they weren’t playing from a set list as such tonight. As such this was a show that was dramatically different from the last time Blabber’n’Smoke encountered The Whisky Hearts when they turned in a performance that leaned heavily on a country rock sound.

With drummer Jim McDermott absent tonight there was less rock but a whole lot more roll with Brian McAlpine’s accordion featured heavily throughout the show along with Amy Geddes’ fiddle playing. As a result guitarist Craig Ross only had a couple of opportunities to let loose on the strings instead adding some delicate touches and a steady rhythmic flow to a set that had a very folky touch.

They slid gently into their set with a gently swinging Valentine’s Day In New York with accordion and fiddle lending the song a sweet rambling vibe which, and not for the first time, reminded us of Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance. This was the first of a brace of songs from Owens’s latest album Into The Sea with Virginia Street, Dora and Kids all following, the last allowing Ross a chance to solo as the song gradually built up from its sombre opening into a classic rock sound. 10 Miles From Saturday Night was a new song which was classic Owens with its mix of Celtic Americana and memorable chorus and it was followed by a rare live outing for the title song from his album Whisky Hearts which was given a rollicking folky delivery which transported the audience into the taverns of Leith. Another blast from the past was a pair of songs from his My Town album, Northern Lights which again was given a fine folk lilt with Geddes’ fiddle well to the fore and Strangers Again with Giddes duetting with Owens.

p1060268-copy

A grand host for the night, Owens was in fine form explaining the stories behind the songs and cracking some puntastic jokes while admitting that on the older songs the band were somewhat busking it, a task they performed with an admiral aplomb. There was gravitas however as he talked about the loss of his sister to cancer, a shadow that stalked the recording of Into The Sea and he paid tribute to her with an affecting delivery of Evergreen before unveiling a new song dedicated to her memory, Julie’s Moon. There was a similar sense of loss when they played, for the first time live, Sally’s Song (I Dreamed of Michael Marra), a lament for past times and lost Dundonian friends with a kick in its tail with the band conjuring up a couthy accordion led slow time waltz which brought a lump to the throat. A solo rendition at the start of the second set of The Only One was another reminder of Owens’ ability to render heartache clothed in a healing song, a gift he shrugged off as he talked of his reputation as only singing miserable songs. Cottonsnow, inspired by a visit to civil war battlefields in the US was offered as an example of his miserabilism but again here he grabs inspiration from desperation with the song a powerful declaration. While he detoured into Johnny Cash territory with a tongue in cheek rendition of Cash’s Delia’s Gone and a rousing The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin which had a fine Cajun belt to it there was no doubting the power behind the stirring version of Up On The Hill  they laid on us while with the fan’s favourite The Man From Leith had the audience singing along. Of course being in the dear green place there was no escaping Owens’ signature tune, the umbilical cord that ties him to his twin city and Raining In Glasgow closed the show proper, the audience on board for a song that is approaching legendary status.

It didn’t end there however as the band came back on for the first unveiling of Owens’ foray into the Christmas market with Home For Christmas, the audience happily joining in (and do have a look at the video here replete with kiddie chorus and jungle bells and a cracking good tune). Thereafter there was only the simple notion of satisfying a song request flung from the front row throughout the night as Owens came back on for a solo flight through Sand In My Shoes, another oldie that again had the audience joining in.

On stage for nearly two hours with every song perfectly crafted and delivered this was an excellent night. There are a couple of opportunities to catch Dean and The Whisky Hearts before they draw 2016 to a close as they play in Stirling and Edinburgh with Dean also playing Dundee and Aberfeldy. All dates here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dean Owens. Into The Sea: Deluxe Edition. Drumfire Record

s707229809767138635_p47_i2_w320

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.

The Deluxe Edition is available here and there’s an opportunity to support Dean in his next endeavour, Southern Wind,  another collaboration with Nielson Hubbard 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

 

Dean Owens and the Celtabilly Allstars – Settin’ the Woods On Fire (Songs of Hank Williams). Southern Fried Festival. Perth. Sunday 31st July 2016

 

DSC_0271

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.

DSC_0314

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.

DSC_0270

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.

DSC_0320

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.

 

 

The Men From Leith: Blue Rose Code, Dick Gaughan, Dean Owens. Queens Halls Edinburgh, May 6th 2016

the_men_from_leith_6-5-16_web_show_info

First off an explanation of sorts regarding this show for those who might not be familiar with Leith. Until 1920, Leith was a separate borough from the neighbouring Edinburgh and even today some Leithers will consider Edinburgh to be a separate entity. This sense of pride in what was a fiercely working class area ( home to the docklands, infamous as the main location of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and still possessing a distinct character from the net curtains of Morningside despite two decades of attempted regentrification), was the thread that ran throughout the show. All three artists have their roots in Leith and tonight they offered up a tribute of sorts to the area in song and words be it the reminiscences of Gaughan, the regrets of ill spent times from Blue Rose Code or the celebration of the working class spirit from Owens. It was a slender thread perhaps but there was a palpable sense of celebration and memory throughout, reinforced by the MC, John Paul McGroarty, Artistic Director at Leith Theatre.

The Men from Leith

Blue Rose Code (Ross Wilson) – appearing at The Men from Leith concert Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 06 May 2016 Picture by marc marnie WORLD RIGHTS

With three headline acts on the bill the sets were necessarily somewhat shorter than one might ordinarily expect, not a bad thing as such as the audience were treated to concise, almost “greatest hits” shows from the two bands. That’s not to say this was a run of the mill exercise, the first act, Blue Rose Code choosing to open with the extended suite In the Morning, a bold move. One of the many pleasures of seeing Blue Rose Code, the vehicle for Ross Wilson‘s talent, is that it’s a fluid enterprise, he can be solo or a four, five or even 11 piece set up, his words and melodies and his emotive vocals the nucleus around which the players revolve. Tonight it was a four-piece band well able to conjure up the mists and airs of Wilson’s Celtic romanticism as on the opening number and his setting of Robert Frost’s Acquainted With The Night. Wilson’s introspective ballads, the heartbreak of Pokesdown Waltz and a new number, another paean to lost love called Nashville Blue, tore at the emotions. Ghosts Of Leith, a song of regret recalling Wilson’s time caught in the throes of drink was played with Wilson later apologising for the song and explaining that he then wrote his wonderful salute to Leith (and Edinburgh), the song Edina, as a riposte before launching into it to a hugely appreciative audience.

The Men from Leith

Dean Owens & The Whisky Hearts – appearing at The Men from Leith concert Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 06 May 2016 Picture by marc marnie WORLD RIGHTS

While Wilson and Blue Rose Code offer a poetic folk jazz tinged Celtic freewheeling spirit Dean Owens, tonight supported by his excellent band, The Whisky Hearts, is a more robust affair. Owens is as much rooted in the USA as he is in Leith with the result an exultant mix of Celtic Americana, the stirring opener Dora giving notice that Owens and his band are able to provide a punchy, almost Richard Thompson like clarion call. Fiddle and accordion add a “raggle taggle” folk feel to some of the proceedings while guitarist Craig Ross can bend his strings in best Clarence White fashion. While songs from Owens’ latest album Into The Sea formed the majority of the set (including his warm memories of his late sister on Evergreen) there was of course a huge response from the audience for the song that lent its title to the night, Owens’ Man From Leith. An anthem of sorts, the song transcends its familial origins (having been written by Owens for his father) as it captures the pride of the working man. Tonight’s rendition was powerful, the audience singing along with the chorus. There was a first live airing of Owens’ latest single, the Civil War tale of Cotton Snow given a fine chunky alt country feel while Up On The Hill proved that Owens has a gift for writing memorable and rousing melodies. Throughout the set one was reminded of Owens’ song writing prowess, the songs stirring and emotive and instantly memorable with the closing number, Raining In Glasgow, the proof of the pudding.

The Men from Leith

Dick Gaughan – appearing at The Men from Leith concert Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 06 May 2016 Picture by marc marnie WORLD RIGHTS

Sandwiched between Blue Rose Code and The Whisky Hearts was Dick Gaughan, the fulcrum for the evening. Despite being born in Glasgow Gaughan epitomises much of what folk imagine of Leith and its working class traditions. Recovering from illness Gaughan doesn’t cut the powerful figure he once did but any loss of vitality was more than made up for by his venerability and he stamped his authority with a ferocious rendition of No Gods and Precious Few Heroes, a fitting song for the day after a parliamentary election which saw a resurgence of the Scottish Tory party. His Leith tale lay in the middle of his song Why Old Men Cry, again, a call out to past generations not dissimilar to Owens’ nods to the past.  A lengthy spoken preamble to his closing song saw Gaughan recalling his early days in Edinburgh’s folk scene and his discovery that there was no shame in singing and speaking in Scots despite his teacher’s disapproval. This led to his spine chilling rendition of Freedom Come All Ye, a song written by his mentor, the late Hamish Henderson and a fine end to his brief set.

The show, part of Edinburgh’s Tradfest (yeah, another Edinburgh festival), was a tremendous success, the only murmurings heard on the night being some questions as to why it didn’t actually take part in Leith itself. A fully refurbished Leith Theatre, currently in the offing, would be an apt space for a return show.

All pictures courtesy of Marc Marnie.

 

 

 

Dean Owens (with Dave Coleman). Cotton Snow. Single Release, Drumfire Records.

cover170x170

With the best reviews of his career so far tucked in his pocket (for his acclaimed 2015 album Into The Sea), Dean Owens saw out last year on a roll and entered the new Year with a bang, supporting Patty Griffin at Celtic Connections. When Blabber’n’Smoke interviewed Owens for AmericanaUK he spoke of his plans for 2016 including a proposed project that reunites him with Neilson Hubbard and Joshua Britt, two thirds of the crew behind the magisterial American Civil War album, The Orphan Brigade (which we reviewed here ). That album was inspired by the history infused into an old plantation building in Franklin, Tennessee and it’s to the Civil War and Franklin that Owens pays attention on this single release which will be available from April 15th.

On a visit last year to the site of the battle of Franklin, one of the bloodiest of the war, Owens was taken by an image mentioned by a participant, Captain Tod Carter. The artillery laying waste to the cotton gins and cotton fields scattered the plant which fell like snow on the soldiers, Cotton Snow. The following day Owens was in Dave Coleman’s (of Nashville band The Coal Men) home studio in Nashville, tinkering around with this idea when Coleman suggesting recording a take on it. Couple of hours later there’s a rough mix, Coleman a one band on drums, tape loops, bass, guitars and pedal steel, Owens with the words down pat. Some transatlantic polishing later and here’s the end result.

It’s a great song and a great recording. Cotton Snow plays to Owens’ ability to invest a song with drama and emotion, to paint a picture with his words. The place names resonate, Chattanooga and Shiloh, previous battles for the progenitor who sees the soldiers, whether clad in grey or blue, inside all the same colour. The surreal image of the cotton snow is amplified by the musical setting, Coleman stirring a twang filled guitar soup that recalls the mystical Americana of Lee Hazlewood. And while Owens doesn’t have the gruff gravitas of Hazlewood here he sings wonderfully, close miked, a slight drawl and a fine giddy up exclamation escaping his lips just before the first guitar solo.  It’s a class act.

Anyway, you can listen to the song below and pre-order it here.