Into the Sea is the third album recorded in the USA by Dean Owens, and this one was recorded in Nashville Tennessee at producer Neilson Hubbard’s “Mr Lemons Studios” with some of the sharpest US players around and Dean’s long time friend and collaborator Will Kimbrough. The album also features cameos from singers Suzy Bogguss and Kim Richey.
Into the Sea may have been recorded in Nashville, but this is not someone from Leith (Dean’s home town) pretending to be a Nashville artist, and I am so pleased that he has not taken this route. This is Dean Owens taking sounds and influences from Nashville that obviously influence him a lot as performer and songwriter, but blending them into his own culture and giving us a sound that retains that Nashville influence while at the same time letting his own Scottish and Celtic musical roots blend together to create his own sound. The songs that are on this album are also very personal songs that reflect both Dean’s own roots in Leith and his experiences travelling around wherever his music has taken him.
This album is a 12 track album with a 13th bonus track, and the songs reflect a wide range of emotions and musical colours from Dean, and I have to admit to liking them all, but for this review can only pick out a few.
The opening song here “Dora” is about Dean’s own Grandmother Dora Salvona Owens and the discovery of the Salvona family travelling circus. This song is just a lovely example of how a gifted songwriter can take personal elements of discovery and weave a story in words around them. There is also something about that opening guitar sound on this one that reminds me a lot of that classic “twang” on Duane Eddy records.
"Closer to Home" was inspired by a letter from a soldier during WW1 and the words “the closer to home, the harder it is to bear the distance” just say everything...particularly as this year is the 100th anniversary of The Battle of the Somme. That line though has a poignancy for anyone ever parted from a loved one for any reason whatsoever.
"Evergreen" with Kim Richey’s vocals as well is just one of those songs that slowly works its way into your head and stays there.
I do have some favourites here myself, and "Kids (1979)" inspired by looking at an old photograph of a school football team is one of them. I think many of us reach that point in our life when we wonder what happened to school friends or wonder if for some of them how things could easily have been so different if fate had played a slightly different hand of cards to them.
"Sally’s Song (I dreamed of Michael Marra") is another great song and for me is a fine example of Dean’s ability to really tug at emotions with words.
The last, and bonus song here, "I’m Pretending (I Don’t Love You Anymore)" with Suzy Bogguss duetting with Dean, is probably my favourite song here, and that is odd. I say odd because I really like the way that Dean Owens has never left his roots and tells these amazing stories from that life around him, but this song is classic vintage Americana Country in sound and deserves its place up there alongside any of those great country songs. If any of the songs on this album have a far wider international appeal then this is the one for me
Dean Owens is a singer, songwriter and performer that I like a lot, and Into The Sea is an album that not only shows us how far he has come musically, but gives us a glimpse of just how much more is to come over the coming years.
Review by Tom King