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.

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.