This sold out show at Oran Mor was essentially two album release shows for the price of one (the subject of a running gag throughout the night) as Dean Owens (winner of our UK Artist Of The Year and UK Album Of The Year) finally got to showcase his excellent ‘Sinner’s Shrine’ at Celtic Connections, the original show last year cancelled due to a resurgence of Covid. Kirsten Adamson, the support act, was more contemporaneous as her album, ‘Landing Place’ (produced by Owens) is just about to hit the shelves.
Songs from ‘Sinner’s Shrine’ – recorded with Calexico in Tucson – provided the bulk of Owens’ set list tonight and his band The Sinners proved themselves more than capable of filling the shoes of the Tucson luminaries. Stu Brown on drums and Duncan Lyall on double bass were supple and dynamic, driving the exotic rhythms demanded of several of the songs while the trumpets of Phillip Cardwell and Chuck Dearness (AKA The Meerkat Horns) added the essential Mariachi touch. Meanwhile, Craig Ross on guitar provided much of the Sonoran desert atmospherics which many of the songs seek to convey. On top of this, Kirsten Adamson played the part of the Latina siren on several of the songs, in Spanish on occasion.
The opening song, ‘Companero’ immediately set the scene with lonesome trumpet and a resonant double bass backing this plaintive lament, followed in quick succession by a rousing ‘Arizona’ and a hypnotic shuffle on ‘Hopeless Ghosts’ with guitarist Ross flaying his guitar effects as the trumpets mournfully marched on. As the song ended Owens said hello to the audience, announcing that while “we’ve started off quite melancholy we’ll work our way up into pure misery,” a quip he’s fond of using but one which perfectly suits his overall brand of Americana, a dirt stained recognition of the pain behind much of American folklore be it murder ballads or tales of genocide.
The band shone throughout the songs from ‘Sinner’s Shrine’ with ‘The Barbed Wire’s Still Weeping’ a grandiose and fierce ballad, soaring despite its grim subject, while ‘Land Of The Humming Bird’ was perhaps the highlight of the night. Here they sashayed with a sensuous and infectious swing, Adamson perfectly capturing Gaby Moreno’s character on the recorded version, the band as a whole reminding one of the Mavericks in their full glory.
As with Calexico, much is made of the cinematic aspects of Owens new songs and he dived into a Morricone rabbit hole as he displayed his whistling skills on ‘Here Comes Paul Newman’, from ‘Sinner’s Shrine’, and on ‘Ghosts Of Wild Horses’, a tune from his collaborative Buffalo Blood album. It might seem trite to say he’s an excellent whistler but both of these had the audience transfixed, not a sound, even from those at the back of the room standing at the bar. Also from Buffalo Blood there was the powerful ‘Reservations’, a song about the devastation of native Americans while Owens’ award winning song, ‘Southern Wind’, a wild and swampy romp, proved that his powerful affiliation with American music existed long before he teamed up with his Tucson buddies.
Delving into the back catalogue, there was also a finely drawn out delivery of ‘The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin’ with guitarist Ross let off the leash to unleash some cracking chickaboom guitar licks, along with that hardy perennial, ‘Raining In Glasgow’. Of course it’s doubtful that Owens would make it out alive from a Glasgow gig if he didn’t play this so he did and we let him go. Having played a solo song earlier, a new one from a forthcoming album, Owens ended the show again solo with a very moving rendition of ‘After The Rain’, dedicated to his family, most of them in the audience tonight, celebrating his delayed album launch and, as with many of us, happy to see Dean Owens gain further recognition.
A busy lady, hotfoot from appearing at the AMAUK awards in London the night before and due to sing with tonight’s headliner, Kirsten Adamson nevertheless gave a great performance introducing her new album, ‘Landing Place’ to the audience. The album bustles and glistens with echoes of folk rock, both UK and American, with Adamson’s fine voice recalling the likes of Nancy Griffith and perfectly suited to the sweet country lope of ‘Live, Love Cry’, one of her older numbers she sang tonight. The opening songs,’ Stars On The South Coast and ‘Up And Down’ rang from the stage as Adamson sang variously what seemed to be an autobiographical song and then of the redeeming power of music with guitarist Jon McKenzie in particular fine form. Adamson is the daughter of the late Stuart Adamson of The Skids and Big Country and the lynchpin of her new album is a co-write with her producer Dean Owens on ‘My Father’s Songs’ which was given tonight a rousing delivery with Owens coming on stage to add some couthie mouthie (harmonica that is). She closed with her version of her father’s song, ‘In A Big Country’, delivered tonight as a loving elegy. Given tonight’s performance we await the album with baited breath.
Many thanks to Gaelle Beri for the photographs. www.gaelleberi.com
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