Owen Temple,
Mountain Home
(El Paisano, 2011)

My initial impression on hearing Owen Temple's Mountain Home -- it's his sixth CD but the first I heard -- was of a better than average Townes Van Zandt imitator. His voice and phrasing in, say, "Danger & Good Times," "Jacksboro Highway," "Fall in Love Every Night" -- the last, as if to call attention, concerning a TVZ-like, substance-addled road singer -- are eerily alike at more than one or two moments. And like Van Zandt, Temple is a Texas-based, folk-influenced singer-songwriter. (Of the 10 songs, nine are originals or co-writes; the other is Leon Russell's "Prince of Peace.")

On further listening, though, Temple sounds more distinctive, though I have yet not to notice the Van Zandt influence. Of course, if Bob Dylan had his Woody Guthrie, every artist can be permitted his muse or hers. It matters only if the artist is a no-talent and the art is insipid simulation. Happily, Temple is no hack, and the songs, it turns out, sparkle with their own light. And he didn't learn -- as one this capable surely couldn't have even if he'd tried -- solely from Van Zandt and that generation of Lone Star singer-songwriters. As he remarks in the accompanying promotional material, he loves both traditional music and the feeling of rural landscapes and past times that true folk music conjures. If none of the songs on Home are literally old-time ones, their ghosts, escaped from haunted antique Western ballads, certainly walk the tracks.

Temple, who records with a small, tastefully restrained country-folk band, sings with the accessible, intimate voice of a born storyteller. The melodies are simple, even skeletal, but the characters, however quickly sketched, feel rounded and complex in the real way of us complicated humans The desolate desert landscape of the Southwest is as much a character as are any of the lost souls who struggle to survive in it. None of the songs are second-rate, and some -- the title tune, the unsettlingly unsentimental "Small Town," "One Day Closer to Rain" -- start to turn something like spectacular along about the second or third hearing.

It's always a marvel to hear somebody this worth hearing whom one hasn't heard before. Any more of this, and Owen Temple could become a habit.

music review by
Jerome Clark

16 April 2011

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