- Label: 'At The Helm Records'
- Genre: 'Folk'
- Release Date: '16th February 2018'- Catalogue No: 'ATH197020'
I may be projecting a little but Dean Owens always strikes me as a singer who would like to sound more happy-go-lucky if he wasn't so good at writing sad songs.
This is, by my count, the third of his seven albums to be recorded in Nashville. As with his previous release, the excellent 'At The Sea', the producer is Nielson Hubbard. Hubbard also co-wrote five of the twelve tracks and plays on the album along with other top class US musicians.
I'd call Owens reflective rather than despairing but, with a voice not unlike Richard Ashcroft's, he simply sounds more convincing when expressing feelings of doubt or wistfulness.
The opening track of this album, his first for At The Helm Records, is therefore somewhat out of character. Owens describes it as his "pub rock song" and the upbeat tone seems designed to scupper any suggestion that this is just another well honed collection of melancholy songs. It features Will Kimbrough on electric guitar and, perversely, it's called The Last Song. With instructions like "raise up your glass, get up off your ass", it's tailor-made for an end of night blowout.
Old habits die hard, though, and the next track, Southern Wind, the title tune, blows in with decidedly more ominous overtones; "I was young at the wrong time", is a typically dry and wry observation.
The Scottish singer's other songs about drinking to forget (When The Whiskey's Not Enough), dwelling on heartbreak (Bad News) and the loneliness of a homeless man (Anything Helps) are the kind of introspective laments he does so well.
In a lighter vein, Elvis Was My Brother is a great tune about a childhood friend's adoption of Elvis as a surrogate sibling while Mother is a tender song dedicated to his mom ("you gave me everything")
The "body is weak but the spirit is strong" on the rousing Gospel influenced No Way Around It, complete with 'glory be' female backing vocals, while Louisville Lip is a simple but effective acoustic tribute to Muhammad Ali written on the night the boxer died.
Owens signs off with three strong songs: the unapologetic romanticism of Famous Last Words ("I will never stop loving you"), the gentle nostalgia of Madeira Street (remembering his late sister) and Love Prevails, an optimistic song of overcoming violence and poverty loosely based on the memoir of Rodney Crowell.
Listen out too for an unlisted 'secret' track on the CD which I'm guessing is called Golden Hill. Being able to toss in classy material like this unannounced is an indication of the artist's confidence and a further illustration of the top notch, soulful song writing that we've come to expect.