AUK award winner continues to deliver widescreen thrills from his sojourn in Arizona.
A chance meeting in Tucson a couple of years ago has led to an embarrassment of riches for Scottish artist Dean Owens. AUK has already related the tale of how Owens and Joey Burns of Calexico met up on a sun-blitzed afternoon, the encounter leading to a most fruitful collaboration on ‘Sinner’s Shrine‘, finally released to great acclaim last year. That album release was delayed due to Covid and in the interim Owens released his ‘Desert Trilogy’, three EP’s which previewed a song each from the album accompanied by others which didn’t make the final cut along with newer collaborations, recorded remotely.
‘El Tiradito’, a two-disc CD set, is the latest result of that encounter to be released. It collects the non-album songs from the trilogy (the limited run of the discs having long sold out) and adds a couple of Owens’ home demos of songs destined to end up on ‘Sinner’s Shrine’ all on disc one. Disc two is the icing on the cake however as Owens and his Tucson buddies offer up what he calls “an instrumental soundtrack for an imaginary western” inspired by the bloody legend of Tucson’s actual sinner’s shrine.
Listening to disc one, one wonders how and why several of these songs didn’t make the final cut for ‘Sinner’s Shrine’. ‘Dolina’ and ‘Ashes & Dust’ especially stand out with both of them bristling with the desert noire menace and romance one associates with Calexico when they stride out along their crystal frontier. ‘Mother Road’, inspired by a 93 year old barber who had a shop on Route 66, a road now seldom travelled once the Interstate opened, is quietly majestic in its sepia-stained splendour, the pedal steel almost weeping. An alternate take of ‘She Was A Raven’ is quite unhinged as Jacob Valenzuela’s rip-snorting trumpet trills and Joey Burn’s scathing guitar solo add up to an almighty rumble. Tucked away at the end is, of course, ‘The End’. Here Owens digs into the existential angst of a murderer on his way to the gallows quite brilliantly with the band adding an appropriate mournful accompaniment. The two home demos which complete the disc are quite intriguing as they show Owens building the basic bones of ‘La Lomita’ and ‘The Hopeless Ghosts’ and making a mighty fine fist of it. No wonder Joey Burns was impressed when they arrived in his inbox and they are a fine insight to the birth of these songs.
On to disc two and it’s quite the delight. Here Owens indulges in his love of Morricone and spaghetti westerns and gets an opportunity to fully display his whistling skills. It might seem odd to mention such a skill but he is a grand whistler. If you have admired the likes of Bernard Herman’s ‘Twisted Nerve’ – used in several movies, most famously in ‘Kill Bill’, then you’ll appreciate Owens’s pursed lips here. John Convertino’s unmistakable drumming, never overstated, powers the tunes while whiplash guitar from Naim Amor and glorious trumpet from Martin Wenk add the necessary drama. Ranging from the galloping ‘A Bullet And A Silver Coin’ to the miasmatic dread of ‘The Rain That Never Lands’, a tune definitely deserving of a wide-screen delivery, this imaginary soundtrack just begs for someone to make such a movie. If this is the final curtain for Owens’ Tucson episode then he’s certainly going out with a bang.
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