Whisky Hearts (Vermillion Road Records)
Dean Owens is a genuine one-off. His exploration of songwriting has taken him through the heart of Americana, where he has found many opportunities to show his skills as a songwriter on his own and as leader of The Felsons. That the public at large have failed to take a great deal of notice is neither here nor there. For this, his second full solo album, he left the verdant Scottish climes for the dry bake of the US and his unerring romance with the country and with country music flourishes here like never before.
Bombastic opener ‘Years Ago’ is a celebration of the robust bluster of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band but this is a mere jumping off point, for what follows is a varied album of warm, engaging songs that ache with a familiar feeling but resist a tumble into the trough of cliché. He has as much in common with versatile thinkers like Aimee Mann as he does your local two-gun Tex. This is a broader, more ambitious record than that. His voice isn’t that weighty, but instead is riven with a kind of fragility that makes the likes of Jeff ‘Wilco’ Tweedy so compelling. He even has echoes of Richard Ashcroft too, but without the messiah complex, thankfully.
His words are direct, unswerving and deeply personal; his lyrical clarity refreshing. Narratives are both deeply autobiographical and evocative third person - all of which work equally well.
There are many conventions to Dean Owens’ rock’n’roll. It understands its history almost a little too well and sometimes he’s ticking boxes. Like Travis, another inherently great band weighed down by the vastness of their own record collection, he’s aware of where his music is coming from. There are points at which the idea overpowers the song, but this is very much the exception, not the rule.
He may have made his name with country but Owens has moved beyond the formula of Americana and into the wide world, which is often joyful, sometimes sad, but rarely dull. A triumph.