On Friday 13th March 2020 I reviewed the first live show of a new tour schedule from Dean Owens and The Southerners. This show brought Dean Owens back to his roots at The Leith Dockers club where a sell-out show surrounded him with family and friends and saw Dean possibly at the best I have ever seen him perform live over the years that I have been reviewing him and his music. Sadly, this night was to be the only show in a tour schedule that had to be cancelled due to unfolding events in the world and the last live music performance that I (and everyone else) was to review for far too long a time.
Why do I mention this in a review of these EPs? Well, by this tour, Dean Owens was already expanding his musical landscape and the album Southern Wind had already been released with the title track winning Dean the prestigious UK Song of The Year Award from the UK Americana Music Association in 2019.
Faced with an extended period of not being able to perform live, Dean Owens has been far from idle, and the Desert Trilogy EPs are the end result of one of many projects that are in the creative production line. Perhaps this unseen and forced change of direction has allowed time for the threads of many older projects to be finished off and new musical horizons envisaged.
Moving on musically is always going to be a difficult choice for any songwriter/performer, and Dean Owens could, if he wanted, play safe and write songs about his home town of Leith, Glasgow, his family and friends forever and keep his well-earned “fan-base” happy forever, but that is hardly a route that would meet the needs of someone who is always wanting to explore where his music will take him.
The Desert Trilogy EPs are Dean taking us on a new walk with him, this time not around the streets of Leith and Scotland that he evokes so well in his music, but the dusty paths of the great open spaces of the American Southwest, and in particular the colours and sounds of California, New Mexico and Arizona with an obvious connection to those desert spaces that clearly inspire him as much as his childhood memories of home and Leith. Some people are always reluctant to accept a change of direction from any artist/performer and some simply might not like change, but I would ask them to at least listen to the new music on these EPs. Other people will be like me, curious at least to find out where Dean Owens is taking us now.
I knew before even listening to any of these songs that they would be different in many ways from many other Dean Owens songs, and took the opinion that I was reviewing this 12 song trilogy (4 tracks per EP) of 1 “The Burning Heart”, 2 “Sand and Blood” and 3 “Ghosts” as hearing Dean for the first time. Having said that though, the music may be different, but the core building blocks of everything that has gone before are still here – that ability to paint in words a picture to tell a story full of detail and emotion, very high studio and packaging production values. Also, very importantly, Dean’s ability to know what he wants to achieve in his music, and what musicians and other creative and technical people he needs to surround himself with to achieve his goals.
Intentionally or not, some of these songs just bring to mind pictures of scenes from classic Sergio Leone western films, bars full of people and music contrasting against endless desert paths of scorching daytime heat and freezing cold nights, and this is all captured in the words and rich musical texturing of these songs. This complex layering of music is a combination of many musical and technical talents which, due to the times, was often produced long-distance online, and somehow everything has come together and these songs are a little bit like Dean Owens switching from monochrome to colour, or from mono to stereo sound.
One of the other projects that is in the production pipeline is the “Sinner’s Shrine” album due for release in January 2022, and each of these EPs has a track on it from that forthcoming album. Working with the band members of Calexico on this project is, I hope, going to be an ongoing musical journey for Dean Owens as it is pushing musical boundaries that he clearly wants to explore further in the coming years.
The Dessert Trilogy EPs have been released individually
Friday 5 March Vol 1 The Burning Heart
Friday 7 May Vol 2 Sand and Blood
Fri 3 September Vol 3 Ghosts
All three volumes are now available as a box set.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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