With his new album, ‘Sinner’s Shrine’, described as… “Riding high in the charts…with a bullet, Elton John’s shitting himself,” Dean Owens was clearly enjoying being back on stage, at long last. ‘Sinner’s Shrine’, recorded with Calexico in Tucson over two years ago was supposed to have had a live launch in January at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival – quite a big deal – but that was cancelled due to Covid restrictions. Undeterred and as soon as he was able to get back onto the live gig saddle, Owens held two launch events, on in Edinburgh and this one, three days later in Glasgow. Both shows sold out.
Strangely enough, Calexico couldn’t manage along (although, having spoken to Joey Burns about the album, I’m sure that if that had been possible the guys would have loved to have been here). So, instead, Owens summoned up The Sinners, comprised of a couple of his long-standing live compadres, Kevin McGuire on double bass and Craig Ross on guitar, along with Kirsten Adamson on vocals and, crucially, Neil Weir on trumpet. ‘Sinner’s Shrine’ riffs gloriously on the romance and blossom offered by the Mexican borderlands and the trumpet is an integral part of that. Weir took up that baton and ran with it and, along with Ross’s inventive use of slide guitar and various effects, The Sinners nailed that borderland essence. No mean feat really given that this was only their second gig after only one rehearsal.
Any doubts were immediately dispelled when Owens launched into ‘Arizona’ and Ross and Weir sprang into action, the keening guitar and blowsy trumpet acutely transferred from disc to stage. ‘The Hopeless Ghosts’ was, if anything, even better as Ross’s guitar lines glistened and Adamson’s percussive handclaps led all those in The Glad Cafe to imagine we were in a sepia stained cantina, listening to a wearied band of Rancheros. In close order the band played several songs from the album – ‘New Mexico’, ‘Companera’ and ‘The Barbed Wire’s Still Weeping’ – all sung and played with passion. For ‘Land Of The Humming Bird’, Adamson stepped into Gaby Moreno’s shoes to sing her part. As Owens’ quipped, “I contacted Kirsten to ask if she sing with us and if she could learn Spanish in a week.”
So far it looked as if the band were going to play the album throughout but The Sinners took a break leaving Owens on stage for a couple of solo songs and a chance to express his delight at having a live audience in front of him. A couple of wry comments on the sterility of Facebook live streaming were quite hilarious. With the band back on, Owens offered a pitch perfect lesson on the art of whistling on ‘Here Comes Paul Newman’, his Morricone influenced tribute to the movie ‘Hud’ and then gave us a blistering version of ‘Reservations’ (from his ‘Buffalo Blood’ collaboration) , the audience singing along to the refrain. This was followed by more whistling on ‘Ghosts Of Wild Horses’, another spaghetti western type number and again from the Buffalo Blood album. It has to be said here that if there are any awards out there for whistling, then Owens is a sure bet.
As they approached the final stretch a couple of older numbers were given The Sinners’ touch. ‘Southern Wind’ had a fine and woozy borderland delivery while the perennial ‘Raining In Glasgow’ had a fine touch of faded grandeur courtesy of Weir’s lonesome trumpet. A much demanded encore had Owens’ singing ‘After The Rain’ solo. Long a fan favourite, the song resonates these days. The band back on, ‘We Need Us’ was sprinkled with twangy guitar and soaring trumpet on a triumphant finale to what was an excellent show. With two years of pent up energy and a classic album under his belt (which actually debuted at No. 3 in the EuroAmericana chart) Owens is on top form right now.
The opening support act was none other than Kirsten Adamson herself and she proved to a more than capable act in her own right. The daughter of the late Stuart Adamson (of Big Country), she has performed in several bands (Aberfeldy, The Gillyflowers and The Marriage) and is currently recording a solo album with Dean Owens producing. Her first two songs, ‘No Other Mother’ and ‘Let Me Live’ reminded one respectively of Joni Mitchell and Tom Paxton – the latter a wryly humorous song written shortly after we were all locked down. ‘Coals & Ashes’, co-written with Owens for the forthcoming album, was darker while ‘Up And Down’ was, as she said, meant to show that there’s a song for every occasion, happy or sad. A skilful guitar player and with a fine vocal range to boot, Adamson ended her set with a semi autobiographical song, ‘Stars On The South Coast’, an impressive heartfelt number, followed by ‘Let Love Cry’, a song from her duo, The Marriage, inspired by her listening to her late father’s songs. An all too short set but one which the audience hugely appreciated.
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