Dean Owens,
My Town
(Vertical, 2004)

Dean Owens is singlehandedly creating his own Scottish brand of alt-country -- he's infusing it with his own Celtic roots. I was familiar with this album before reviewing it, because I was at the Glasgow Celtic Connections album launch in January 2004, and really enjoyed Owens' live performance of a good few of the songs. This album will have great appeal for those whose main interest is country music, though there are strong elements of Celtic, folk and rock in the overall mix.

Owens writes fine songs, often autobiographical in content (he says he realised just how autobiographical when he'd recorded them) and delivers them with passion, enjoyment and conviction, which come across well both recorded and live. He plays acoustic guitar and harmonica and is supported by some great Scottish talent. Malinky's Karine Polwart provides backing vocals (and sings a great duet with him, "Strangers Again"). He's also joined by Kev McGuire (double bass) and Marianne Campbell (fiddle). It's the contributions of these three key players that I enjoy best. There's some fine trumpet/flugelhorn playing from Colin Steele, too. The country guitar (guest appearances by Al Perkins and Will Kimbrough) is judiciously used on this album (which pleases me because I'm a Celtic rather than a country fan!), and it's well balanced by the range of other instrumentation.

There's no doubt in my mind that "Northern Lights" is the standout track -- inspired by the Shetland Isles, it's such an up-tempo song! "It's Not Love" is also sung with real strength and passion. "Blue December," with its fiddle and muted trumpet, is another great number, and I enjoy the unexpected Latin feel of "This Feeling" and the rhythm and guitar work on "Shakespeare's County." Songs like "Life and Beauty" have a strong rock feel about them.

This recording is a marked contrast to Owens' last album, The Droma Tapes, which was recorded in a cottage in Droma, the Scottish Highlands. On this very stripped-back recording, you hear the sound of the wind outside, the crackling log fire and even the odd car passing by. Owens himself remarks "I think of The Droma Tapes as a black and white record ... with My Town, I've added the colour." For those looking for an album with more of a country feel and lots more instrumental detail, I think My Town should fit the bill perfectly.

- Rambles
written by Debbie Koritsas
published 8 May 2004