Paul_Handyside_Tide_Timber_and_Grain coverPaul Handyside’s been around for a while; thirty years, give or take, and producing work that’s almost impossible to pigeonhole; maybe ‘quality songs, beautifully delivered’ would work. This is a long way from the jangle-pop of his eighties band Hurrah!, displaying the maturity that comes from surviving the pop business and going on to create the music you want to make. Music with a more subdued palette but much more room for subtlety and finesse and a rich vein of melancholy. The album’s first song, “Flowers Won’t Bloom”, contains the line ‘the things that we planted are waiting to die’, it’s infinitely sadder than dead plants, and sets the tone for a lot of the album.

The album runs through a range of styles; all ten songs are Paul Handyside originals, although most of them could have been plucked from another era. “True Love” and “Goodnight Lover” have a strong late fifties/early sixties resonance evoking Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers in their simplicity and purity, while the apocalyptic “All Will be Revealed” could be a late sixties protest song. “Desperate Days” taps into the melancholy singer-songwriter vein as does “Let Me down Easy” with vocals at the baritone end of his range, delicate electric guitar figures and subtle harmonies which build up as the song progresses.

“Fond Farewell, and “Should I Leave your Side” are both in the English folk tradition with picked guitar and Paul’s north-eastern accent breaking through, but it’s another two songs that really shine in this idiom. “Woodcutter’s Son”, with its a cappella intro, lovely harmonies and spurned childhood sweetheart theme is the first. The second is the sprawling “A Whaler’s Lament”, an epic, many-versed folk ballad telling the story of a young man between the years of 1905 and 1915 as he moves from whaling to mining and finally (very finally) to the wartime merchant marine. It’s a flawless piece of folk narrative.

With the assistance of Rob Tickell (guitars and percussion) and David Porthouse (double bass and melodeon), Paul Handyside has produced a hauntingly melancholy album using a variety of (mainly) traditional instruments to provide a framework for his marvellous voice; it’s a powerful combination.

“Tide, Timber and Grain” is released on Friday April 1st on Malady Music (MALCD005).

Into the SeaIt’s always been a bit of a mystery to me why Dean Owens hasn’t been more widely recognised as an outstanding British singer-songwriter. Despite a career with his band The Felsons and several solo albums which provided a couple of classic additions to the Scottish songbook (“Raining in Glasgow” and “Man from Leith”), before the release of his new album “Into the Sea”, Dean still wasn’t widely known, even in Scotland. It looks like this is the album to change that. In the run-up to the album’s release Dean has had well-deserved coverage across the media in Scotland and, to a lesser extent, in England.

Maybe there’s a bit of truth in the cliché about suffering for your art; 2014 was a difficult year for Dean for a variety of reasons but he’s used his work to weave the pain, the joy and the memories into an album packed with songs of love and loss; the stories of the people lost forever and the ones who are lost but still with us. “Into the Sea” is the work of a songwriter with experience of real life looking backwards to help make sense of the present, creating a lasting work of art as a result.

Some of the album’s reminiscences are triggered by objects, while others are triggered by events. The opening track, “Dora” is rooted in a family tree and a circus poster and tells the story of Dean’s grandmother and her circus background; “Closer to Home” was inspired by a letter written by a soldier on the way home from The Great War and “Kids (1979)”, a poignant story of diverging paths, is kicked off by an old photo of a school football team, while “Evergreen” starts from a holiday photo. All four songs are mixtures of happiness and sadness, reflecting the lives that most of us live.

The majority of the album’s songs are inspired by situations; “The Only One” (with Will Kimbrough’s vocal harmonies creating a nice Everly Brothers feel) and “Days Without You” both relate to the terminal illness of a friend’s partner, while “Sally’s Song (I Dreamed of Michael Marra)” combines teenage memories with a tribute to one of Scotland’s greatest songwriters. “Virginia Street” is the story of a friend’s nostalgia for happier days while “Valentine’s Day in New York” is an autobiographical piece dealing with the loneliness of spending time away from loved ones. “It Could be Worse” was the album’s problem child, coming together at the last possible moment with a bit of help from Will Kimbrough and also features as an instrumental reprise. The album’s final song (or special bonus track) is a duet with Suzy Bogguss on “I’m Pretending I Don’t Love You Anymore” featuring a bit of whistling from Dean and a nice Roy Orbison “Blue Bayou” feel.

It’s easy to underestimate the quality of an artist’s work when you see and hear a lot of them (and the Riot Squad have seen and heard a lot of Dean Owens over the last few years) so “Into the Sea”, as the first album of original material since 2012’s “New York Hummingbird” was an opportunity to take a step back and refresh the perspective. The songs tap into a rich seam of melancholy memories which work perfectly for Dean’s voice; the lyrics tug at the heartstrings while the band (Will Kimbrough, Evan Hutchings, Neilson Hubbard, Jen Gunderman, Michael Renne, David Henry, Eamon McLoughlin, Joshua Britt, Suzy Bogguss, Kim Richey and Heather Donegan) provide varied and sympathetic settings throughout. This album, for me, is the most complete and rounded piece of work that Dean Owens has produced and should be a part of any music-lover’s collection.

If you’re in the South of England and you want to see Dean playing songs from the new album, he’ll be playing at these venues in June/July:

Monday June 29         The Greys, Brighton

Wednesday July 1      Green Note, Camden

Thursday July 2         Green Note, Camden

Friday July 3               Venue TBC, Twickenham

Saturday July 4           The Hat Club, Beaconsfield

If you can’t get along to any of these gigs and still want to support Dean, why not have a look at the Kickstarter campaign for the video for his next single “Up on the Hill”? There are loads of ways to contribute and lots of goodies available.

“Into the Sea” is out now on Drumfire Records.