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.

Wild SkiesWild Skies” is the debut album from Linda Sutti, who is from Piacenza in Italy, but writes and sings in English. Her co-writer and producer on the album is our old friend, Henrik Freischlader, who is German but also writes and sings in English. Following his usual pattern, Henrik not only co-writes and produces the album but also plays drums, guitars and bass. The studio line-up is completed by Omer Klein (keys), Christopher Huber (violin), Cornelius Thiem (cello) and Johannes Krayer (pedal steel).

Linda’s style is conventional singer-songwriter lyrically while the music moves through jazz and light rock and towards a more poppy sound (but definitely without any EDM). Her voice is strong and distinctive and she’s equally effective on the intimate and raucous ends of the scale with touches of Rickie Lee Jones and Norah Jones (who both had pretty memorable debut albums) at various times.

The album’s opener, “Hurry”, does just the opposite; it’s an appeal from a lover to relax and wind down, but the singer isn’t having any of it. It’s a medium-tempo laid-back jazz groove with what I can only describe as a chauffeur’s gear change towards the end; it’s certainly a lot smoother than the truckers’ variety. “Try” is the most obvious single and pop tune on the album, with a hint of Suzanne Vega vocally and a lighters-in-the-air chorus. The title song, “Wild Skies”, and “Every Tick of Our Time” are both from the introspective 70s singer-songwriter tradition with the former featuring some subtle electric piano and a tempo change to emphasise the chorus while the latter has a beautiful string section intro leading into a song backed with only acoustic guitar.

Down on the Road” is the album’s ‘get out of my life’ song with a 60s psychedelic backing that Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger would have been proud of, and is followed by the acoustic piece “For the Thrill” which, for me, is the weakest song on the album. “Silence” is a pretty successful attempt to capture a fleeting moment and features some lovely subtle rhythm guitar from Henrik and a couple of very nice hooks to pull you into the verses. “Prince Coffee” uses stirring a cold cup of coffee as a metaphor for trying to make a relationship work and it just about succeeds, with a little help from the polka-tinted arrangement.

Ordinary Life”, with its minimalist backing deals with a common problem for musicians (or any kind of performing): the paradox of the wisdom and the impossibility of maintaining a meaningful relationship with a civilian, which seems to be resolved in the only song on the album written entirely by Henrik Freischlader, “Dear Mr So-and-So”. The funky guitar and keys along with Linda’s robust delivery create a sound which could be Rickie Lee Jones at her best. The final track, “No Fear”, hints at the 70s pop/folk crossovers of artist like Rab Noakes and Gerry Rafferty (and more recently John Tams) combining folk roots with electric instrumentation to good effect.

Overall, it’s a very varied and listenable album, which you would expect with the involvement of Henrik Freischlader, and there are a couple of standout songs which would work on Radio 2 in the UK. Linda Sutti’s voice is strong and convincing throughout and the strings and pedal steel aren’t overused, which increases the impact when they do feature. My only criticism is that the lyrics could occasionally be a bit stronger, which may be down to both Henrik and Linda writing in a second language; I certainly wouldn’t want to try writing a lyric in French. Putting that aside, there’s a lot to like about this album and I recommend that you give it a listen.

Out now on Cable Car Records (CCR 0311-44).