In many ways, Dean Owens’s third solo album is very old fashioned. That isn’t meant as a criticism – musically it references huge slabs of Springsteen (especially the opener, Years Ago, one of those slyly political songs with its ripe rip of sax, and the gloriously uplifting Hallelujah) and in its more relaxed moments the Flying Burrito Brothers’ twangy country rock.
Formerly lead singer with the largely unremarked Felsons, like Springsteen, Owens has a gift for simple, direct phrases that sum up commonly held beliefs or emotions, catchy riffs, and tapping into the spirited, surface euphoria of the hardworking man.
For some reason his lightly politicised, upbeat songs like Miss You CA, awash with West Coast harmonies, work better than the more introspective, quieter numbers. They may not be completely original, either in thought or execution, but they gel together magnificently.
The title track, Whisky Hearts, full of Celtic instrumentation, is the perfect swayalong number, ideal for playing in the background during a boisterous but bittersweet montage at the end of an American drama show where using The Pogues would be a bit too vigorous. When you think about it the song’s a big bunch of clich�s but by God it works when you let it roll over you.
Although many of the catchy and easy going tracks, particularly on the latter part of album, reference Scotland, Owens’s accent is thoroughly Americanised, as is his delivery, and the album itself was recorded outside Nashville with a role call of mature country talent playing on it. Thus the songs which are supposed to be most personal to Owens and most lyrical are the ones that don’t quite fit in.
Sung in transatlantic tones, Raining in Glasgow (“I bet it’s raining in Glasgow/but tonight I wouldn’t mind getting wet”) has an unintended touch of parody about it. And while Man From Leith, about the singer’s father, is heartfelt. it gives us rather bare descriptions of his recollections of his father, not the universal sentiments that characterise much of the rest of the album.
This is not a great album (although it is most certainly a very listenable one), but it’s made by someone taking a slow and careful journey in the right direction, who I’m now hungry to see live, and who I’m certain will grow into greatness.