As the possibility of live gigs returning gets tantalisingly closer, reviewers here at AUK are still stuck on the couch watching live streams beamed in from all over. Tonight’s entertainment came from Edinburgh, from The Traverse Theatre to be precise, part of their short season of Soundhouse Spotlight Sessions, organised by Edinburgh promoters, Soundhouse.
Soundhouse have grown from their early days, hosting house concerts in Douglas Robertson and Jane-Ann Purdy’s home, to promote a host of events covering folk, roots music and Americana and have since 2015 have held regular Monday night shows at The Traverse. A charitable organisation, they are renowned for their support of local (and young musicians). In the absence of live shows, Soundhouse recently announced a series of ten shows to be performed from The Traverse, professionally filmed and available to watch on a pay what you can basis. There was a diverse line up, including jazz and folk, but AUK plumped for another dose of Leith based songwriter, Dean Owens. Coincidentally, it transpires that it was Owens who was the first artist to play at Robertson and Purdy’s house concerts.
Owens was accompanied by Amy Geddes on fiddle and Kev Mcguire on double bass, the trio together on stage, socially distanced of course but actually playing together. This was in marked contrast to our last sighting of Owens as part of the online Celtic Connections Festival (which had Owens virtually playing with Calexico’s Joey Burns and Martin Wenk) and the focus tonight was less on his upcoming releases recorded with his Tucson buddies, rather a warm and engaging dip into some of his best-known songs. Each of the performances was introduced by a short clip of Owens telling the story behind the song, a nice touch as we learned about his pensiveness whilst walking up Craiglockhart Hill and later on, his notion to salute many of his musical heroes on ‘Last Song’.
As for the performances, here Owens was returning to his “Celtic Americana” roots as McGuire’s supple double bass playing rooted the sound with one being reminded of that titan of double bass, Danny Thompson, while Geddes’ fiddle playing had the wild romantic air of traditional music along with some of that Romany touch Scarlett Rivera added to Dylan on ‘Desire’, especially on their rendition of ‘New Mexico’. A stirring ‘Up On The Hill’ opened the show before ‘New Mexico’, an old song given a new airing on Owens upcoming album, showed that he has always had frontier blood flowing in his veins. His most popular song, ‘Raining In Glasgow’, benefited from what must be Owens’ fullest explanation of the genesis of the song, followed by an incredibly tender reading of it.
Owens is quite the chameleon on stage being an inveterate collaborator and appearing with numerous different aggregations of musicians under a variety of titles. It was interesting therefore, to hear the trio’s take on the southern gothic of Owens’ award winning song ‘Southern Wind’. Shorn of its glowering guitars and gospel choruses it was the least realised song of the night, the trio unable to match the sheer power of the record, but there was still a fine hint of menace with McGuire’s bass the beating heart of the performance. ‘Last Song’, in contrast, was a blast with the trio really getting into the spirit of the number which was inspired by listening to Ronnie Lane’s travelling caravan of songs. With harmonica whoops and flailing fiddle, this was a joy. The show closed with ‘After The Rain’, another old song given a makeover in Tucson and waiting to be unveiled properly on the forthcoming album. It’s a beautifully yearning song and the trio delivered it with panache and an emotional heft.
On the quality of the event, it has to be said that this was beautifully filmed and the sound quality was excellent. Bar the lack of audience applause, this was just about as close to a live experience as one can imagine right now and ticket purchasers could watch the show on demand for seven days after it was first aired, something you can’t do at a live gig. That window has closed for this event but Owens returns online at The Green Note on 7th May, accompanied by David Huckfelt and Kirsten Adamson, if this has whet your whistle.