When you think that this is the year music went over the cliff (well, live music certainly) we’ve been pretty busy with album reviews as artists faced difficult choices about whether to release their material in a time when they couldn’t tour to promote it. Despite those difficult decisions, we still reviewed over thirty albums this year and we asked Allan to pick out five of his personal favourites.

I’ve always loved the MusicRiot ethos of reviewing; it’s not about trashing albums that we aren’t keen on, it’s about highlighting the albums that we really like and telling the world why we like them. We don’t review high profile albums, nothing we say will help Springsteen, Dylan or Young sell half a dozen more units, but we might actually help someone self-releasing their work, even if it’s only with a quote to use on their next press release. Now I’ve got that out of my system, I’ll tell you about five albums that I’ve had on high rotation this year. As always, in no particular order:

“What in the World” – Michael McDermott

Michael McDermott keeps cropping up in these year end lists, with good reason. He’s a great songwriter and he knows how to present his songs on record and live. “What in the World” was a bit of a departure for Michael; his focus has shifted towards protest songs. When Michael takes a pathway, he commits to it completely. The title song is “Subterranean Homesick Blues” for 2020; it’s a headlong rush through the final year of Trump’s presidency and pulls no punches – ‘It’s not hard to see The President’s a criminal’. While “What in the World” is one of only two protest songs on the album (the other is “Mother Emanuel”), its power and ferocity mean that it defines the album, although there are plenty more songs from Michael’s post-addiction and recovery space to make a great and varied album.

“Can You See Me” – Maya Rae

This one was very different from the MusicRiot staples. Maya Rae isn’t the kind of artist we usually hear about from our sources. She sent a demo tape to producer Steve Dawson (Black Hen Records) and he hastily put a band together to record the album in three days. Maya wasn’t even eighteen at the time and she had already been singing professionally for six years. The album’s fresh and zingy and full of the insights about young people’s lives that you can only get from a young person. The musicianship on the album is superb as the band step effortlessly from pop to sinuous funk. Try it, you’ll love it.

“Iago Banet” – Iago Banet

I don’t think I’ve ever featured an entirely instrumental album before in my High Fives, but I’d never heard “Iago Banet” before this year. Iago plays in a style that he describes as Galician finger-style from south, south, south, south London. If you haven’t seen Iago play live you would think that each song features at least two guitarists (a bit like Martin Harley’s Weissenborn playing), but only one track on the album features a second guitar and that’s the fun blues hybrid ”Octopus One”. Iago’s playing evokes pictures ranging from Greater London scenes (“Morning at Greenwich Park”) to more prosaic domestic scenes (“There’s a Mouse In my Kitchen”). And there’s also a wonderful swing arrangement of Van Morrison’s “Moondance”. What more could you want?

“Tangle of Souls” – Scott Cook

To paraphrase the Marks & Spencer advertising strapline, this isn’t just music. “Tangle of Souls” as a standalone album is a superb piece of work, but it comes packaged with a hefty booklet containing Scott’s writings, printed on had-crafted paper. It all adds to the experience, but the album stands on its own musical and lyrical merits. The album’s centrepiece “Say Can You See” is a political statement that isn’t partisan; it’s about not trusting anyone from the DC elite. The album has more of a political edge than some of Scott Cook’s earlier work, including an update of Dick Blakeslee’s “Passin’ Through”, which includes a reference to 1970s Chilean martyr Victor Jara. It’s an album that will make you listen and make you think.

“The Sleepless Kind” – Andy Fleet

This was another one that came out of left field. Andy is a musician who makes a living in the same way as a lot of musicians these days; a bit of performance, a bit of recording, a bit of teaching and a bit of anything else that comes along. “The Sleepless Kind” tells the stories of the musicians who entertain us in our clubs and bars every night (or did before the onset of this plague) and gives us a unique perspective on Soho through the eyes of an owl. It’s an album that rewards repeated plays and has an end of the day feel to it. You should probably listen while nestling a single malt in one hand.

And here’s a little bonus ball for you. I wouldn’t normally include a compilation in this selection, but this one merits a mention.

“The Man from Leith” – Dean Owens

This is a seventeen-song Dean Owens retrospective. I’ve followed Dean’s work for nearly ten years now and he’s a songwriter who writes beautifully about Scottish and global themes. There are songs about family, songs about friends, songs about events and even a sing inspired by Ronnie Lane. If you want an introduction to Dean’s body of work, then this is the perfect place to start. And whether he’s playing solo or with a band you should try to see him live as well.

We decided to let Allan share another set of photos from 2020 while we wait for contributions from some of his fellow photographers. He was more than happy to pick out a set that reflected the positivity we’ve been seeing from our contributors so far.

It’s a privilege to work with performing musicians to create photographs of people on stage doing what they love and creating a shared experience with an audience; I’ve missed it for a big chunk of this year and I’m desperate for its return. The beauty of working in smaller venues is the intimacy between the performer and audience (and the photographer); everyone’s closer together and everyone can make eye contact. Here are a few photos where I think I managed to capture the artist’s response to the audience (and the camera) and a few big smiles:

 

Simeon Hammond Dallas @Greenwich Blues & Beer Festival

This was from the first gig(s) I did after the first lockdown ended. It was initially an outdoor event at the end of August, but the traditional August Bank Holiday weather meant that most of it was moved indoors. This is from one of the sessions that wasn’t; it was the first session on Sunday and let’s just say it wasn’t a balmy British summer morning. I’ve photographed Simeon Hammond Dallas a few times before; her songs are powerful and her delivery is perfect. She puts everything into her performance and when she laughs, she really laughs. Can you tell how cold it was on that Sunday? Simeon definitely dressed for the weather.

Lisa Canny @The Big Gig

This wasn’t an intimate little venue; it was the main room at 229 The Venue and Lisa was playing with her full band. I’ve photographed Lisa in many different venues, both solo and with her band and she always gives the absolute maximum. She plays harp (the Celtic not the blues kind) and banjo, does loop mixes and has a great line in anecdotes as well. This was a full band gig on a big stage celebrating the second anniversary of the Talentbanq organisation; the room was full and the band was cooking on gas. There’s an intensity to Lisa’s performance that shows on her face; it’s all about knowing when to press the shutter.

Isabella Coulstock @The Bedford

Way back in pre-lockdown days (and my first gig of the year), this gig was a cracker. The line-up was Rebecca Riedtmann, Hope Winter and Isabella Coulstock, three gifted performers and songwriters. The Bedford’s a fabulous live music venue with some great photographic angles and (pre-lockdown) the opportunity to get really close to the performers. Which is exactly what I was doing, with a 35mm lens, when that lovely interaction between performer and photographer happened and Isabella stuck out her tongue, creating a perfect cheeky shot.

Martha L Healy @ Cash Back, The Woodside, Aberdour

I was so chuffed to get an invitation to this gig but concerned that it might not happen because of the impending lockdown. It did go ahead and I saw some incredible performances from established Scottish legends and new talents. This is no criticism of the venue, but the lighting for most of the performers wasn’t perfect for photography; it’s something you have to live with. However, there was a sweet spot on Friday during Martha’s set where there was a bit of contrast and colour. It’s not a typical performance shot, but I think it captures Martha’s warm personality. This was a case of eventually finding the right angle with reasonable lighting and grabbing something that worked.

Sadie Horler @Eccleston Yards

Between lockdowns and following lockdown lite, Talentbanq has been providing artists for a music stage at the Sunday markets at Eccleston Yards in Victoria. I’ve had a few good Sunday afternoons there and managed to grab a few good shots. On this particular afternoon, Sadie Horler, who I first met when she supported Sound of the Sirens, arrived breathless and just in time for her closing slot, did a quick sound check and went straight on stage. Sadie performs a lot of her own material and has a certain knack with a cover version as well – how about an acoustic version of “Creep”? Another thing you should know about Sadie is that she has a smile that lights up a room (or a yard in this case). Again, find the right angle, just wait and press the shutter at the right time.

We like to have a visual element to our High Fives, and we like to feature the work of as many gig photographers as we can, not just our own resident snapper. We’re hoping to feature some guest photographers later this month but, in the meantime, we’ll start with five from Allan because he’s got five ready to go. Here’s what he has to say about this year:

There was a time earlier this year when I wondered if I’d have enough pictures for this feature. This was supposed to be a great year for gigs and January, February and the first half of March was living up to the promise; loads of gigs around London, a weekend mini-festival in Fife and my first shoot at the legendary Fairfield Halls in Croydon. A week after the Croydon gig, we were in lockdown. I was lucky enough to squeeze in a few gigs between lockdowns but let’s just say I won’t be doing a calendar this year. I normally shoot a lot of portrait-style shots with one person in the frame, but for various reasons, including avoiding brother/sister fallouts, I’ve shot a few group shots this year. Here’s a few of them:

The Velveteen Orkestra

I photographed Dan Shears at a John Lennon 79th birthday gig at The Hard Rock Café in 2019 and following on from that, we arranged to do some shoots at upcoming gigs in 2020 with a variety of Velveteen Orkestra line-ups. The second shoot I went along to was an early evening gig at Jamm in Brixton with Dan and violinist Sarah Boughton. I got lots of good solo shots of Dan, but having Sarah out of focus in the background gave some depth to this shot.

Amy LaVere & Will Sexton

What could be better than dashing around between venues in Hackney for two nights at the end of January. This was the annual Americana Music Association UK showcase 2020; it needed careful planning, stamina and shoeleather, but there were good shots to be had if you were fast and lucky. Amy LaVere and her husband Will Sexton were individually photogenic, but I was keen to get both of them in the frame. Amy draws the attention by staring straight at the camera, as Will plays the supporting role. If you want to know why this was a black and white shot, it was down to some flat and not very colourful lighting.

Belle Roscoe on a barge

I love shooting Belle Roscoe. They’re a brilliant band and, like the Velveteen Orkestra, they play in a variety of configurations from a duo format to full rock band. Whatever the format, they’re great to listen to and always interesting to shoot. Coming out of lockdown, I shot them at The Bedford in Balham and a few days later they announced a series of guerrilla outdoor gigs on a barge on a Saturday afternoon starting at Hackney Wick. After mistaking the River Lee for the canal and getting totally lost (and horribly late), I finally found the location for the first gig just as the band moored the barge to set up for the gig. As always, the band rocked and there were a lot of interesting shots there for the taking. I think the shot captures the strange setting, the cold and windy weather and the rock star quality of Julia and Matty Gurry.

Dean Owens, Hannah-Rose Platt and Rab Noakes

This was a couple of weeks before lockdown. I had train tickets booked months in advance and fingers firmly crossed that the UK wouldn’t grind to a halt before the event. It was a weekend at The Woodside in Aberdour curated by the fabulous Scottish singer-songwriter Dean Owens celebrating Johnny Cash’s roots in The Kingdom of Fife. The weekend featured a wide variety of artists including Fay Fife and my favourite crime novelist, Ian Rankin.

My favourite session of the weekend was a songwriters’ circle on the Saturday evening featuring Dean, Hannah-Rose Platt and Scottish folk legend Rab Noakes. They complemented each other perfectly and I was positive that there was a good shot coming at the end of the set, so I got myself into position and waited.

Georgia and the Vintage Youth

Just before the first lockdown again, this was a bit closer to home, at Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney. The gig was an EP launch and Georgia had the full band for this one. I have to say now that this is probably my favourite shot of the year. It was almost at the end of the set and I’d packed away the zoom and just kept the 35mm lens ready for any close-ups that might happen. It got interesting when Georgia sat down on the stage, got more interesting when guitarist Charlie Manning got in on the act, and absolutely perfect when Georgia flicked the ‘V’. It’s not technically perfect, but I love the Sid and Nancy/Kurt and Courtney feel of it.

If anyone asks, I’ll always identify as Scottish. In terms of music, it’s a heritage that I tap into. There’s a Celtic feel to many Scottish writers and performers that strikes a chord and I guess it’s because of shared cultural references (it applies to books as well; I love Ian Rankin’s novels, among others). But enough about me; this is all about Dean Owens and his latest album, a greatest hits package titled “The Man from Leith”. Many of the themes of the songs are universal, but there’s also a clear Scottish theme that runs through the album (the title might be a giveaway).

Dean’s been releasing work as a solo artist for about twenty years now and, with a release about every three or four years (not including collaborations and side projects), that’s a substantial back catalogue. Although Dean’s an album, more than a singles, artist, there are still standout songs that have been tried and tested live and are consistently popular. These are the songs that Dean has played solo, as a duo with various guitar players and with various band configurations (with some incredible musicians) and they’ve been thoroughly road-tested; they’re all great songs.

Dean imbues his songs with a very clear sense of place, whether it’s Scotland or the arid desert of Arizona and he loves to tell a story. More than half of the songs on “The Man from Leith” are set in Scotland, particularly Edinburgh (with the obvious exception of “Raining in Glasgow”) and Dean has a genuine appreciation of Scottish songwriters who paved the way for the latest generation and might not be particularly famous outside Scotland (including luminaries like Rab Noakes and Michael Marra).

“The Man from Leith” is seventeen songs spanning Dean’s solo career, demonstrating the range of his songwriting skills from the intensely autobiographical (“Man from Leith” about Dean’s dad and “Baby Fireworks” about his daughter) to the anthemic Ronnie Lane/Ian McLagan tribute “The Last Song”, co-written with Will Kimbrough. If you’re not moved by those songs, your heart is a swinging brick and you shouldn’t even be reading this. And “Lost Time”, which closes the album, is a poignant reminder that we don’t get a second chance at life; make the most of it while you can. In fact the album closes with a run of three songs, “Raining in Glasgow”, “The Last Song” and “Lost Time” that bears comparison with any closing trilogy I’ve heard.

While I’m on the subject of song themes, not all songs are written in the first person; I’ve seen one review of this album get that really badly wrong. Great songwriters pull out themes from their own lives but also the lives of their friends and from stuff that they see on the news or in the papers; don’t make the assumption that everything’s autobiographical, there’s much more to songwriting than that. If you see Dean live, chances are he’ll tell you the stories behind the songs. That’s the best way to get an insight and you’ll probably get a laugh as well; Dean’s songs might be somewhere between melancholy and miserable but he has a wicked, dry sense of humour that you can only appreciate if you see him live.

So, is “The Man from Leith” the best of Dean Owens? It captures the breadth and depth of Dean’s songwriting from the autobiographical “Raining in Glasgow” to the historical WW1 song “Closer to Home” and everything else in between. There isn’t anything even resembling a mediocre song here, and I haven’t even mentioned the award-winning “Southern Wind” (co-written with Will Kimbrough) yet. Die-hard fans might pick out other songs that they think should be included, but this is a pretty good selection. If someone gave me this album and I hadn’t heard any of the songs previously, I’d be really chuffed. Is that good enough for you?

If I’ve met you at a gig, I might have mentioned that “The Last Song” is an absolute anthem; I’m more convinced of that every time I hear it live. Things aren’t looking too good for live music at the moment, but this will certainly give a good impression of what a Dean Owens gig sounds like.

“The Man from Leith” is available on CD and vinyl on Eel Pie Records from 20th March 2020.

Well, we’re hoping to bring you some great photos from some of the best live music photographers on the circuit as part of this High Fives season, but until then you’ll have to make do with another selection from our resident snapper, Allan McKay. This time he’s picked out a selection of colour shots of male performers from a widely varying range of venues.

 

 

John Crimes (Jaxhill)

This was taken at Leek Blues and Americana festival in October of this year. This is a great community event staffed by volunteers and features a stack of free events in the town’s pubs (there are a few of those) plus a small number of ticketed events, over a period of 6 days. The smaller events are interesting because they don’t usually have any stage lighting, so it’s about playing the hand you’re dealt. Turning away from singer Mike Gledhill, I noticed that John was beaming out this 100—megawatt smile. Press the shutter button and there you go.

Maceo Parker

This shot was from Maceo’s show at The Roundhouse as part of the Innervisions Festival in 2019. Why do I like this festival? Easy, you can go home at the end of each gig, have a shower and sleep in your own bed. This shot was a combination of planning and luck. I saw Maceo place the wooden ‘Love’ sculpture on the stage and thought that there must be a way of working it in to a shot. After trying the sculpture on its own and as an out-of-focus foreground, Maceo walked to the back of the stage and there was the shot. I like to take away a lesson from every gig. The lesson here was that LED stage lighting and a shaven head isn’t a great combination.

Martin Harley

Leek Blues and Americana again, and this was the first ticketed event of the festival at the wonderful and intimate Fowlowe Theatre. I’ve photographed Martin before, but usually in much smaller venues, acoustic, and with upright bass player Daniel Kimbro. This time he was leading an electric trio and, apart from the Weissenborn songs, playing standing. The combination of those things with the heavily-modified Stratocasters created opportunities for some images that were very different from past gigs. And there’s a bit of the lead guitarist thing going on there as well. Combine that with decent stage lighting and you’ve got a shot.

Lewis Bewley-Taylor (Hardwicke Circus)

Hardwicke Circus is cracking young band from Carlisle with great songs, bags of energy and presence, and a hint of early seventies-era Stones. They’re managed by the legendary Dave Robinson and they’re always worth seeing live. This shot was from the newly-refurbished Bedford in Balham. It’s always had a reputation as a great music venue and it has one huge bonus for photographers; it has a balcony over the back part of the stage allowing you to shoot from above, which works well for drummers and keyboard players. The shot was made by the seventies prog-rock setup and the carpet and the use of an unusual viewpoint. You really want a bit of trivia don’t you? The band’s name is taken from a traffic island in Carlisle.

Jim Maving (Dean Owens and The Southerners)

Taken at The Exchange Theatre in Twickenham. Jim is a stunningly good guitar player who has spent some time recently working live with Dean Owens and Tom Collison. Jim isn’t keen on being photographed, but was good enough to tell me that he liked the shots I’d done at this gig. The thing that I really like about this shot is that it captures some of the intensity of Jim’s playing and the purple stage lighting (not normally my favourite) works really well with Jim’s silver hair.

 

Humour me for a minute. Every so often, a piece of work like this comes along (it’s not just an album it’s a project, maybe even a concept) where every aspect and detail is absolutely perfect. The humouring bit concerns my particular slant on the project. MusicRiot’s gig team, The Riot Squad, are big fans of Dean Owens, the UK representative on the project, so forgive me if I spend a bit of time on Dean’s contribution. It’s fair to say that Dean’s solo material has a strong sense of location; he writes about the area and the people he knows, just like Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh in their novels and short stories. It’s also fair to say that he’s always been willing to push the boundaries in his collaborations, spreading out into traditional Scottish folk ballads as Redwood Mountain with Amy Geddes, rockier material with his occasional band Deer Lake and his consistently excellent work with Will Kimbrough (more about that later).

Buffalo Blood is something else indeed. Dean teamed up with his Nashville friends and collaborators Neilson Hubbard, Audrey Spillman and Joshua Britt, along with sound engineer and photographer Jim DeMain to spend two weeks deep in the New Mexico desert feeling the forces of previous lives played out there while writing and recording  fifteen songs that tap into the echoes of centuries of betrayal, exploitation and alienation of the Native American peoples. And it’s not just the songs; there’s video and photography as well. The incredibly ambitious aim of the project is to immerse the listener in five hundred years of Native American experience. What’s truly incredible is that they actually succeeded. “Buffalo Blood” is an album that will entrance you, engage you and enrage you; maybe it will even make you take a serious look at the history of the indigenous peoples of the American continent. That’s what can happen when creative artists follow their instincts and beliefs and just create; I can’t imagine any of the major music providers bankrolling this project, but I believe “Buffalo Blood” has a real shot at commercial success; it’s that powerful.

The songs were recorded live outdoors in the desert, the wind and animal noises contributing to the feeling of immersion in an environment that retains echoes of centuries of struggle. The quality of the songwriting is consistently high across the album as Celtic, European and Native American influences combine to create a perfect musical backdrop for a message that is still relevant (Standing Rock ring any bells?).

The album has a narrative flow; it moves from the original contact with European settlers through time to the closing lament “Vanishing World”, which is perfectly suited to Dean Owens’ plaintive voice. This album is a classic, carrying a very potent message through the medium of haunting melodies and flawless performances; get it on your wishlist.

If you needed the album to be ground-breaking in any more ways, it’s the first UK release on the Eel Pie Records label and it’s available as a vinyl gatefold double album or digitally from Friday February 15 (EPRLP001)

Breaking news – Dean Owens won UK Song of the Year at the UK Americana Awards 2019 for the title track from his 2018 “Southern Wind” collaboration with Will Kimbrough. And that’s not the only good news from the Buffalo Blood camp; Neilson Hubbard produced “Southern Wind” and also Ben Glover’s “Shorebound” (UK Album of the Year winner) and “Rifles and Rosary Beads” for Mary Gauthier, who won International Artist of the Year and is up for a Grammy this year. Not a bad haul, and that’s before “Buffalo Blood” is released.

If you need any more recommendations for Buffalo Blood, try this:

As ever; songs, not singles. These songs are all from albums that we’ve reviewed this year (that’s Stone Foundation ruled out again – sorry guys). There’s something else, apart from greatness, that links all these choices; they’re not the only songs from the albums they feature on that could have made this list. The albums are all wonderful pieces of work taken as a whole, but they all feature at least two standout tracks that would have been seen as singles in a different musical era. There were difficult choices but ultimately it had to be whittled down to five songs. In no particular order, here are Allan’s favourite five songs of the year; the songs that made his heart soar or made him cry, but definitely made him hit the repeat button.

 

“The Last Song” – Dean Owens

Just to be contrary, it’s actually the first song on the album, ”Southern Wind”, which was a collaboration with Will Kimbrough. One of the things Dean and Will bonded over was their love of Ronnie Lane, whose influence is all over this one. Having heard it live a few times, where it tends to appear towards the end of the set, confirms the power of the song and allows Dean to riff on repeated choruses by throwing in lines from, for example, “Ooh La La”. It’s fun and it’s memorable; if you don’t love this, you’ve got icicles for ventricles.

 

“Love in Wartime” – Birds of Chicago

Absolutely gorgeous. This clocks in at about the six minute mark but you just want it to keep going. It’s one of those that seduces you in with a gentle intro then builds and builds to the first chorus. And by that time, you’re hooked; you’re there for the duration. Maybe there’s a nostalgia thing there; the feel, the chord progressions are a lot like classic mid-seventies era Bob Seger. The melody’s hummable, the harmonies are superb and it’s hugely uplifting. I dare you not to be moved by this.

 

“Out from Under” – Michael McDermott

This is a song where you just have to accept the Bruce Springsteen comparison because this is a stadium rocker in the mould of “Born to Run”. It’s a monstrous ‘wall of sound’ production driving along by pounding, relentless floor toms and a huge full band arrangement. In the context of the album, it’s the song that represents the start of the upward turn in Michael’s rehabilitation and the uplifting lyrical message is carried along on the tide of a widescreen musical setting. Taken out of the context of the album, it’s a song that FM radio in the States would have been all over in the 80s – not just a powerhouse arrangement, a potent message as well.

 

“Son of an Immigrant” – Gerry Spehar

A perfect example of the song that leads you in a certain direction before pulling the rug from under you and twisting the point of the narrative. It’s not just an example of a clever narrative trick; like the rest of the album, this is a powerful commentary on the current state of the USA, and its current leader. The song has a very clear message; if you go back far enough almost everyone’s an immigrant in the land of the free. Like “Out from Under”, it sits perfectly within the context of the album without needing that context to shine as a great song.

 

“The Shape of You” – Rod Picott

Sometimes a song just needs to find the point in your life where it fits. This one happened for me on the Tube on the way back from a gig at Green Note. I’d already heard it a few times but this time it suddenly hit home. It’s about the realisation that someone has become a part of you. In this case because that person has gone, but I guess the image works if they’re still around. The song opens with the image in the title, then develops that image. It’s a really simple idea but beautifully effective. The arrangement’s sparse, with mainly acoustic guitar and vocal with some very subtle Will Kimbrough guitar atmospherics just lurking in the background. Delicate and gorgeous.

There are many other songs that could have been on this list; there’s so much incredible music out there, but these were the ones that were buzzing around my consciousness when I put this together. Have a listen, and I hope you enjoy.

2018 was a bit of a year, really. There was a strong showing in the first few months of the year and it felt like the early albums would be difficult to beat. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy or the fact that, for one reason or another, I wasn’t able to review too many albums in the latter part of the year but the early albums were very difficult to beat. I’m only featuring albums that I reviewed here, so great pieces of work like the magnificent Stone Foundation album “Everybody, Anyone” doesn’t get a mention. Oops, it just did. Anyway, as always in no particular order, here are my five favourite albums of the year.

“Southern Wind” – Dean Owens & Will Kimbrough

I’ve been a fan of Dean Owens since my introduction to “New York Hummingbird” six years ago. Dean’s a consistently great performer whose songs cleverly combine universal themes like love and loss with a particularly Scottish outlook. Over the last few years he’s been increasingly involved in collaborations (with Amy Geddes as Redwood Mountain and the upcoming Buffalo Blood album with Neilson Hubbard and Joshua Britt) and “Southern Wind” was a joint project with the superb and in-demand guitarist Will Kimbrough. The album is a classic; there’s no filler and lots of killer and you can clearly hear the influence of the wonderful Ronnie Lane, particularly in “Last Song”. I wasn’t going to single any particular song out, so how come that just happened. It’s a meeting in the mid-Atlantic between Leith and Nashville and it’s a Thing of Beauty.

Here’s the original review.

“Psychopastoral” – Phil Burdett

Coincidentally, I first met Phil Burdett on the same night I met Dean for the first time (this stuff isn’t just thrown together, you know) and they’ve both had very different journeys since then. If I had to pick one word for Phil’s attitude to his music, it’s uncompromising, and I mean that in a very, very good way. His back catalogue is all worth checking out, but his latest project “Psychopastoral” is something else. It’s a song cycle which tells the story of the journey home spread out over 24 hours. Sounds simple? This Phil Burdett. The songs are linked by spoken-word interludes and (courtesy of Lyndon ‘Songdog’ Morgan) and musical fragments created mainly by Senor ‘Al’ Franklinos. I know, it sounds like it could be a bit pretentious, as I said, this is Phil Burdett; it works perfectly. And Phil’s gone one step further than Pink Floyd by making the whole project one massive track nearly an hour long to force listeners to hear the project the way it was intended to be heard. Didn’t think I’d ever write a sentence with Phil Burdett and Pink Floyd in it.

Here’s the original review.

“Out from Under” – Michael McDermott

We can link this back to Dean Owens as well, because Will Kimbrough plays on this, as he does on a lot of Michael’s recent material. Told you he was in demand. The title song is big in an E Street Band style and, let’s face it, Michael will always get those Springsteen/Dylan comparisons and for all the right reasons. He’s a superb songwriter who understands the American songbook and its highways and byways and isn’t afraid to take a trip down any one of them. The album shifts seamlessly from the pathos of “This World Will Break Your Heart” to the joyful Motown exuberance of “Rubber Band Ring”. I said back in May that I hadn’t heard a better album this year and I stand by that now.

Here’s the original review.

“Anger Management” – Gerry Spehar

I loved Gerry Spehar’s previous album “I hold Gravity”. He’s a natural songwriter with a gift for a telling image. So just combine that gift with an exploration of the state of modern America following the election of Kurious Oranj. It’s political in less direct ways as well; “Bitch Heaven” digs into the story of Woody Guthrie’s campaign against Trump Senior and the Beach Haven property, while “Son of an Immigrant” double-underlines the blindingly obvious truth that the vast majority of Americans are immigrants if you go back far enough, including the current occupant of the White House. It’s an angry album, but Gerry is managing the anger by diverting it into creative channels. This is an important album and we should all listen to it.

Here’s the original review.

“Out Past the Wires” – Rod Picott

OK, quantity isn’t everything, but Rod Picott defied the current trend for shorter albums and EPs by releasing a double album (twenty-two songs in total). If you have the material and it’s good enough, get it out there. It’s good enough, it’s more than good enough. Will Kimbrough plays on it and also Neilson Hubbard (notice a theme here) but it’s not just about the playing arrangements, it’s also about the stories and that’s what Rod Picott is really good at. In fact, the stories are so important that Rod’s also publishing a book following the lives of some of the characters appearing in the songs and that should really be worth reading.

Here’s the original review.

 

Our good friend Dean Owens recently returned from a short tour and working holiday around Tennessee and South and North Carolina. He’s just completed his final show of 2018, a reunion with his old band, The Felsons and found some time to tell us about five of his favourite things from his travels in the Southern states. And, just a little teaser for you, Dean’s latest project Buffalo Blood, a collaboration with legendary producer Neilson Hubbard and Joshua Britt will be the first release on Eel Pie Records in February 2019.

 

The Louisville Lip

I got to visit my hero Muhammad Ali’s grave in Louisville Kentucky. A special moment for me. I wrote a song for Ali that’s on my new record – Southern Wind. I wrote it the night Ali passed away and it’s called Louisville Lip, which was one of Ali’s nicknames when he was first starting out and still called Cassius Clay. I drove up to Louisville with an old friend of mine and we just made it to Cave Hill Cemetery before it closed for the day. I left a copy of Southern Wind by the grave and sang him a verse of Louisville Lip. I’ll never forget it.

 

The Levitt Shell

Getting to play the historic Levitt Shell in Memphis was fantastic. Levitt Shell was where a young Elvis Presley played his first show all those years back. I’m the first Scottish artist to play there so it was a real thrill to be able to play on that stage on a hot Memphis evening and to get to sing my latest single – Elvis Was My Brother. Amazing really.

 

Wild Ponies

Meeting and becoming good friends with Nashville duo – Wild Ponies. Doug and Telisha Williams are brilliant in their own right and to have them back me as my band was just fantastic. Great people with big hearts. We’re going to be hooking up again in the US in the Spring. Bring it on

 

Albino Skunkfest

Playing the Albino Skunkfest in South Carolina and getting a standing ovation……at NOON!!! It was here I was given my new nickname – Merle Haggis. Ha ha. Wonderful people at a wonderful festival. I’ll be back.

 

Buffalo Blood

Meeting up with my www.buffaloblood.com friends Neilson Hubbard and Joshua Britt and finalizing our plans for our debut album and world premiere at Celtic Connections in Glasgow on the 25th January.  Can’t wait.

It’s about time we had a new album from Dean Owens, isn’t it? It’s been two and a half years since “Into the Sea”, not that he’s been resting on his considerable laurels, that’s not his style. He’s been involved in production, collaboration and loads of touring and somehow managed to fit the “Southern Wind” sessions in to the mix. Although the album’s released under Dean’s name, it’s fair to say that it’s more of a collaboration with his guitar-slinger of choice (and mine), Will Kimbrough. The musicians and production team are Dean’s regular Nashville crew and they all do the usual superb job, but the creative thread running through the centre is “Southern Wind” is the Owens/Kimbrough partnership.

They bonded over, among other things, a mutual love of Ronnie Lane and that’s the starting point for the album. “Last Song”, the album’s opener, wouldn’t feel out of place on any of the Faces albums with its loose rock feel and characteristic melodic basslines. It’s an homage and a tribute and it’s loads of fun; proof that Dean and Will can write an upbeat song (and it’s not the only one on the album).

Although the title track and “No Way Around It” have a slightly menacing Delta feel, “Southern Wind” still has very strong sense of time and place in twenty-first century Scotland and the stories of its inhabitants in difficult social and personal circumstances. “Elvis Was my Brother”, “When the Whisky’s not Enough” and “Bad News” all fit into this category, while “Famous Last Words” is a typical Dean Owens slant on the longest day of the year; that things can only get worse from here on in. Nights are fair drawin’ in, eh? “Anything Helps”, another Will Kimbrough co-write, fits neatly in to this little group with its Ronnie Lane solo era stylings and one of the album’s greatest lines ‘Took a swing at life and missed’.

There’s a place here for the intensely personal as well; the gorgeous “Madeira Street” looks back to more innocent times through a prism of grief and celebration, while “Louisville Lip” celebrates the life of Dean’s hero Muhammad Ali. “Mother” is a light-hearted sixties pastiche (just imagine it on the soundtrack to “Inspector George Gently” or “Call the Midwife”) with clipped guitar and a hint of Phil and Don, while “Love Prevails”, closing the album, channels The Chordettes’ “Born to be With You”, particularly in Will Kimbrough’s laid-back solo.

Dean Owens has that rare poetic ability to fashion perfect songs from life’s everyday stories and the ability to deliver powerful, plaintive performances of those songs. On this album, the partnership with Will Kimbrough and producer Neilson Hubbard has created perfect settings for both the melancholy and the upbeat songs. ”Southern Wind” is a fine piece of work from one of Scotland’s finest songwriters.

“Southern Wind” is released on Friday February 16 on At the Helm Records.

 And here’s a special little treat for you: