GARETH OWEN – I’m Out Of This Place (own label)

I'm Out Of This PlaceSix months or so after the release of his Rolling By CD, Gareth Owen’s new album I’m Out Of This Place is released on November 23rd 2018. Again, it’s a collection of story songs, all written by Gareth, very much in the Americana/country idiom. Gareth takes lead vocals, ably supported by Matt Park (pedal steel, bass, banjo, percussion, backing vocals), Lincoln Grounds (acoustic and baritone guitars, backing vocals), Rob Kelly (bass guitar), Paddy Milner (piano) and SJ Mortimer (backing vocals).

Here’s the track list:

  1. ‘Waltzing Kid Pt 1’
  2. ‘Ribbon Of Sky-Blue Lace’
  3. ‘Julie’
  4. ‘The Preacher’
  5. ‘Marie’
  6. ‘Waltzing Kid Pt 2’
  7. ‘Rosalita’
  8. ‘Out Of This Place’
  9. ‘Waltzing Kid’/’Raise A Glass’
  10. ‘Happy With That’

The prevailing tone on this album is of quintessentially country laidback melancholia, but there are moments here that hint at something more adventurous: for instance, the brief introduction to ‘Waltzing Kid Pt 1’, the dissonant piano linking the last verse of ‘Waltzing Kid’ and ‘Raise A Glass’, and even the biting wordplay in ‘Happy With That’.

Gareth Owen brings the same writing skills to his songs that he does to his verse and prose. His world-weary vocals are exquisitely suited to this material, and the supporting vocals and instrumental backing are always sympathetic: the pedal steel intro to ‘Marie’ is particularly attractive. SJ Mortimer’s vocals are more restrained than the backing vocals on the earlier album, and to my ear more suited to these songs.

The gunfighter ballad ‘Waltzing Kid Pt 1′ is spread across three tracks in a manner that might remind you of the Eagles’ variations on ‘Doolin-Dalton’ and ‘Desperado’ on the underrated Desperado album. This does allow the listener to focus on different elements of the story, with enough changes in instrumentation and delivery to hold interest, especially with the segue into ‘Raise A Glass’ in track 9. I applaud Gareth’s decision to sing this expanded version of the song straight: if you’ve previously heard it as performed by Gareth’s OTT alter ego Virg Clenthills, you might be surprised at how affecting it is.

‘The Preacher’ picks up the pace a little with a story song that might have appealed to Frankie Laine or Marty Robbins, benefiting from a full production dominated by pedal steel (nicely played), and deep-throated guitar somewhat reminiscent of Duane Eddy. ‘Rosalita’ benefits from a tinge of 60s/70s country rock.

While most of the songs here will be familiar to fans of Gareth’s alter ego, ‘Happy With That’ is the only track where Virg manages to make his presence felt, both in the spoken introduction and in the sardonic lyrics that characterize this insight into a seriously dysfunctional family. It makes a nice upbeat (in a black sort of way) ending to a fairly low-key selection of songs. If I have a reservation about this set, it’s that – in the absence of Virg’s onstage patter – it might have benefited from the insertion of one or two of Gareth’s more lyrically and/or rhythmically upbeat songs. However, it’s still a good snapshot of his songwriting skills, and any one of these songs represent a creditable performance.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.garethowen.com

‘Marie’ – the Virg Clenthills’ version:

MARK HARRISON – The Panoramic View (own label)

The Panoramic ViewI really like Mark Harrison’s previous album, Turpentine, so I was delighted when he sent me The Panoramic View. Mark plays 12-string and National guitars and his core band is double bass and drums courtesy of Charles Benfield and Ben Welburn. His music is the blues but with the lightest of touches and an edge of country with piano by Paddy Milner taking us into a saloon somewhere and Paul Tkachenko’s brass taking us somewhere sleazier. On top of that he’s a very inventive song-writer.

The opening track, ‘One Small Suitcase’ is about escape and a line in the first verse suggests that our protagonists are slaves planning to run away. Without that line the song could be about a young couple eloping but perhaps both interpretations are true. You never know what Mark is going to write and so, perhaps with that in mind, he’s engaged Scottish television presenter Gail Porter to read introductions to the songs which otherwise would be printed in the booklet, going as far as to explain that the instrumental ‘Pool Meadow Strut’ is about a Coventry bus station.

Actually, Gail’s introductions are important as Mark bases several songs on old bluesmen and only a real aficionado would know that ‘Don’t Die Till You’re Dead’ was a favourite phrase of Mississippi John Hurt or that Eddie “Guitar” Burns gave up playing music and worked multiple jobs to raise the kids from two marriages as told in ‘House Full Of Children’. Although Burns’ name isn’t well-known to most people he is highly rated among Detroit bluesmen – just the sort of guy that Mark would know about.

‘What Son House Said’ is a possible interpretation of an alcoholic ramble, in fact nearly all the songs are hedged around with “might bes” or “could haves” and when the subjects under discussion are living under the Jim Crow laws in the 50s and 60s or the life of a Chinese track-layer in the 19th century perhaps all you need is empathy for other people’s lives. Mark has that.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.markharrisonrootsmusic.com

‘Ain’t No Justice’ – live