“The Man From Leith - the Best of Dean Owens” released by Eel Pie Records on 20th March 2020 on CD, Vinyl (gatefold sleeve) and Digital formats is probably about as definitive a title of a man and his music that you are likely to get, and gives you exactly what the title suggests.
Dean Owens has for many years now been one of my favourite songwriters, and this album, which takes songs from his officially released 7 solo albums to date, allows the listener to not only hear the musical and lyrical development of Dean Owens over the years, but also to appreciate just what a rare talent with words he has, and when those words are coupled with that equally rare ability to write from the heart about family, friends, and experiences in his life, we the listeners get an insight into the man behind the music and the words which few artists are willing to give these days.
The title track of this album, “The Man From Leith” is, like many songs on this album, very personal to Dean and written about his father but, somehow over the years, this song has hit an emotional resonance with many people from Leith who recognise his father and his working life in their own lives. This song has made the transition from a personal song to homage to Dean’s home town of Leith.
For me, Dean Owens is always at his musical and lyrical best when writing about the emotions of people or that longing for a particular place in time, and there are many songs in this collection that can mean so much to so many different people as they personally connect with these songs in their own way.
Where as an artist do you start when putting together a “best of” collection? That I suppose is always going to be a problem as for every song you put on the album you probably leave out someone’s favourite. Having reviewed many Dean Owens’ live performances over the past few years, I think that Dean has got this collection right as songs like “Up On The Hill”, “Virginia Street”, “The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin”, “Raining In Glasgow” and many others are always warmly received by audiences wherever and whenever he plays.
There is always a clear line of lyrical and musical development in the work of Dean Owens as well as the curiosity to explore new sound textures and colours, and one of the later songs on this album, “Southern Wind”, co-written with Will Kimbrough, shows clearly the extent of Dean’s development as a writer over the years. This song also won the Americana Music Association UK Song of The Year Award 2019.
The album graphics with their vintage circus themes poster design and a lion leaping through a flaming circle are neatly tied into one of Dean’s personal songs too. If you know the song then you will recognise the visual significance immediately. If not, have fun finding out.
“The Man From Leith” is, like all of Dean’s albums, a well produced package with obvious attention paid at the studio production end to give these songs and the musicians on the songs the best sound quality that they can get, and that gives us a layering of musical depth that you only get when working with some of the best people in their professions. Having said this though, it would be nice (well for me at least) for Dean Owens to one day release a really stripped back sounding album with only his vocals and single guitar as when I have heard some of these songs performed live this way, there always seems to be that extra emotional depth to them.
For any readers out there that want to hear some of these songs performed live then you are in luck as Dean Owens and his band The Southerners are hitting the road soon with a tour – check Dean Owens’ own website for full details at
TRACKLISTING - CD
1 Man From Leith / 2 My Town / 3 Up On The Hill / 4 Strangers Again [ft duet with Karine Polwart] / 5 New Mexico / 6 Virginia Street / 7 Elvis Was My Brother / 8 Baby Fireworks / 9 Evergreen / 10 Dora / 11 Southern Wind / 12 The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin / 13 Whisky Hearts / 14 Closer To Home / 15 Raining In Glasgow / 16 The Last Song / 17 Lost Time
TRACKLISTING - VINYL
1 Man From Leith / 2 Up On The Hill / 3 Strangers Again [ft duet with Karine Polwart] / 4 Elvis Was My Brother / 5 Baby Fireworks
1 Dora / 2 Southern Wind / 3 The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin / 4 Raining In Glasgow / 5 The Last Song
Review by Tom King