I have to admit, when this turned up for review, I had no idea who Dean Owens is. Handily, the title of this ‘Best Of’ compilation informs me that he’s from Scotland (albeit “The Man” also refers to his dad, as it’s lifted from a ballad he wrote as a tribute to the old man). Not so helpful is the fact this has been released on Eel Pie Records which, together with the font and general aesthetic of the cover, primes some sort of Rockney expectations, à la Chas & Dave. Probably just me.
Press blurb informs that he’s “widely hailed as one of the UK’s finest troubadours”, who can count none other than Irvine Welsh amongst his fans. And Welsh wrote half the liner notes that reside within the digipak interior, all shouty in upper case, albeit heartfelt lauding of a musician for whom he evidently has the utmost of respect. Blurb also reveals that Owens has enjoyed a near-20 year solo career that’s spanned, thus far, 7 albums, and it’s from this septet of full-lengthers that tracks have been drawn for this compilation.
With a predominance of Americana running through his work, infused with a sense of his own Scottish roots, there’s a whole load of folked-up and country-esque flavours in the delivery of his compositions - sometimes more overtly country than folk, and vice versa at other times. But his voice is the one constant running through each and every song, with a storytelling quality that’s seemingly rooted in singer-songwriter territory, and very appealing it generally is, too.
The blurb claims he’s “strongly influenced by his US heroes, while retaining his own unique Scottish roots and voice.” Hmmm… I can’t quite hear that myself, at least not across all the tracks, as he seems to succumb to a more generic intonation and twang that veers towards a US accent, particularly during the more country-biased numbers. And we’re certainly not talking about Craig and Charlie Reid levels of dialectical delivery here, Leith’s most famous musicians. Far from it. If you want a comparison point, at least with his more folk-edged delivery, his voice reminds me, at times, of the Levellers’ Mark Chadwick, in both style and phrasing, but with added US flavours.
Overall, this compilation seemingly offers a good overview and introduction to the music of Dean Owens. While I cringe a little at some of the more overt country moments (personal taste, nothing to do with Owens’ talents), there’s much here that I’ve enjoyed. I can’t say that I’m now a Dean Owens convert, but I wouldn’t be averse to giving this the occasional spin as and when my mood is right.
Eel Pie Records
THE MAN FROM LEITH - THE BEST OF DEAN OWENS
Review by Mark Holmes
17th April 2020
1) Man from Leith; 2) My Town
3) Up on the Hill; 4) Strangers Again
5) New Mexico; 6) Virginia Street
7) Elvis Was My Brother
8) Baby Fireworks; 9) Evergreen
10) Dora; 11) Southern Wind
12) The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin
13) Whisky Hearts
14) Closer to Home
15) Raining in Glasgow
16) The Last Song; 17) Lost Time
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...his voice is the one constant running through each and every song, with a storytelling quality...and very appealing it generally is, too."