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.

 

 

Kris Delmhorst TitleYou have to admire the faith and dedication of musicians who fly across the Atlantic to spend their evenings playing to small audiences around the UK in an effort to get some recognition for their music. Kris Delmhorst and Hayward Williams completed their eleven days/eleven gigs UK tour at Green Note in Camden on Sunday with a couple of sets to warm the heart of even the most cynical of old gig warriors (and there were a few of those in the crowd).

The evening started with a short solo set from Hayward featuring mainly songs from his most recent album “The Reef”, including “Helping Hands (If I Go Under)”, “Beginnings” and the album’s closing song “Under Control”. Even without the band arrangements from the album versions the songs were strong and punchy (the guitar backing on “Beginnings” sounding a lot like The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice”) and Hayward’s laconic musings between songs about his home town of Milwaukee and various other subjects were perfect for a London audience.

After a short break, Hayward was back to join Kris for most of her set, strapping on the electric to supply a bit of extra weight to the arrangements and some very nice fills as well as some assured harmonies. The interaction between the two performers kept the audience involved between songs, particularly when Hayward took a break as Kris performed songs from earlier in her career and had his guitar “stolen” while he was off-stage.

If you haven’t heard of Kris Delmhorst, she’s a singer-songwriter who was born in New York, but now lives in Massachusetts, plays a variety of instruments, and writes songs about her life and the lives of those around her which she delivers in a laid-back style relying on interesting themes and melodies to deliver her message. “Blood Test” is her first album since 2008 and, unsurprisingly, features heavily in her live set. The musical arrangements on “Blood Test” aren’t overblown so it’s relatively simple, with a bit of creativity, to make them work with two voices and two guitars. Lyrically the album leans towards the re-evaluation that life events force on you, and that was reflected in the songs included in the live set.

The set opened with the low-key reminiscences of “Blood Test” and worked through “Saw it All” (with some lovely guitar fills from Hayward), “Bees”, “Homeless”, “We Deliver”, “Little Frame”, “Temporary Sun”, “92nd Street” and “Lighthouse”, all performed as a duo. To take a break from the new material, which the audience seemed to be pretty familiar with anyway, Kris threw in a few older songs including “Freediver”, “You’re No Train” and “Magic” (a song from her album of Cars covers).

This was the first time Kris has visited the UK since 2008 (just before her daughter was born) but I’m fairly certain it won’t be another seven years before we see her again. Judging by the response of the audience, I’m guessing that Hayward Williams gained a few fans for his solo set and for riding shotgun for Kris. It was the kind of gig that sends you out into the cold spring evening with your own personal glow.

“Blood Test” is available now on Signature Sounds or Kris’s website.

“The Reef” is available at CDBaby.