Dean Owens & The Whisky Hearts + The Jenny Sturgeon Trio @Celtic Connections, Drygate, Glasgow, 2nd February 2018

Launching his new album, Southern Wind, Edinburgh’s Dean Owens gathered together his regular band, The Whisky Hearts, to play a sold out show in this east end brewery. The album, recorded in Nashville with an all American line up, has more of a Southern swampy sound then Owens’ previous efforts but the band, well versed in his Celtic Americana, were more than able to muddy their hands with some Mississippi grit as they played several of the songs from the new album.

They opened with No Way Around It, fiddler Amy Geddes and keyboard player, Brian McAlpine playing mandolin and banjo respectively to create the bare bones of the song while the rhythm section of Mike McCann and Jim McDermott urged the song forward with a voodoo like pulse that gradually ratched up the tension before guitarist Craig Ross whipped out an evil sounding solo. Southern Wind followed and again the band played like a beast slouching towards some Southern Bethlehem, the spectral beginning opening out into a thrilling blast of noise, organ adding soul while Ross again played a spectacular solo before the song blew itself out like a tribal chant disappearing over the horizon. This was a spectacular start to the show, The Whisky Hearts were sounding as good as if not better than anytime we’ve seen them before while both songs showed why many people are pointing to Southern Wind as Owen’s best album yet.

Having tantalised the audience with a taste of the album Owens turned to Into The Sea for the next few numbers, Virginia Street and Dora with the latter featuring some very impressive drumming from McDermott. Next up was Elvis Was My Brother from the new album, a song that has “hit” stamped all over it although these days that probably just means regular plays from the many discerning jocks who recognise Owens qualities. More of the past catalogue was delivered, Evergreen, Man From Leith and last year’s single release, 10 Miles To Saturday Night, a particularly fine roustabout number that swings merrily with McAlpine’s keyboards well to the fore. Ending with a powerful version of Up On The Hill this was a triumphant night for Owens and the band but the crowd demanded an encore and were rewarded with the opening song from Southern Wind, the joyous Ronnie Lane fuelled The Last Song, a litany of thanks to the likes of Lane and Ian McLagen which segued into a brief snatch of Ooh La La, the band rocking out like The Faces in their prime. Of course, given that he was back in the dear green place, Owens finished with Raining In Glasgow and the band then exited, the crowd giving them a standing ovation.

Opening the show tonight was the Jenny Sturgeon trio. Sturgeon, from Aberdeen but now living in Shetland is a member of traditional band Salt House but tonight she was accompanied by Jonny Hardie of Old Blind Dogs and Charlie McKerron from Capercaillie. Singing about St. Kilda. the Aberdeen weather and sisters transformed into sea creatures, Sturgeon conveyed well the dark and mysterious elements that characterise the best of folk music. With her harmonium puffing away on some songs she summoned up some excellent eerie moments but closed with a fine version of The Grateful Dead’s Black Muddy River which featured a fine fiddle solo from McKerron.

Author: Paul Kerr

Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.

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