Dean Owens
Sinner’s Shrine
Eel Pie Records/CRS

A Magnificent Melting Pot of Influences; Created In Leith Via the American SouthWest

Last year’s Desert Trilogy was a favourite of this reviewer, so I was particularly looking forward to hearing the album that those songs were a precursor to.
Were my expectations fulfilled?
Read on….

Opener “Arizona;” an Owens/Nels Andrews co-write is an epic singalong in style; with washes of pedal steel and trademark Calexico brass bursts that always make me smile whenever they appear.
The Owens/Burns vocal pairing is sublime too – complementary and reinforcing each other into almost one voice.

Second track “The Hopeless Ghosts” appeared on the Desert Trilogy 3, replete with its Grant Lee Phillips guest backing vocal – Mexican in style with trumpet and handclaps – inspired by a Townes van Zandt comment about why his songs weren’t just about sad subjects, but rather hopeless ones – it’s far from that quality, dynamic and colourful in musical tone.

“New Mexico” which follows is probably the track which I’ve played the most from the Desert Trilogy Series and it’s here again in all its widescreen glory of brass, twang and pedal steel.
First heard on Dean’s debut “Droma” release, it’s gone from lo-fi to epic and in doing so, has found its true soul – it’s spectacular.
It’s juxtaposed in this release with the twilight melancholy of Compañera, inspired lyrically by old religious spaces.
Give me the strength to carry on/When I fall behind”
is a message we can all get behind, that of the strength supplied by a (compañera ) partner.
Tom Hagerman’s strings and Antonio Pró’s guitarron hold and embellish this tender tale of support from start to beguiling finish.

Another from the Desert Trilogy, the whistling instrumental “Here Comes Paul Newman” lands mid-album and its “Hud” inspired whistling, segues perfectly into a story of desperation on “The Barbed Wire’s Still Weeping”, of people crossing borders in search of a better life – again, for me Hagerman’s trembling strings reinforce the fear and emotion underscoring the core narrative, adding a power and fragility to the song.

“La Lomita” is another song inspired by a physical shrine, in this case a small chapel on the Mexican border and a place of refuge endangered by Trump’s border wall plan.
A gritty bullet mic-ed vocal adds a sense of menace and threat, allied to the repetitive chanting of “Cross the water/Cross the wire.”

“Land of the Hummingbird” (ft Gaby Moreno) reappears from Desert Trilogy 2 and placed in context of the album it introduces a tale of fictional dark romance after the darkness of reality. Naïm Amor’s guitar adds a visceral thrill of emotional charge which plays nicely against Moreno’s fluid vocal and Burns’ rhythmic piano.

There’s a call for ecological effort on “We need us” and it’s a message conveyed emotively with down in your boots twang, sparkling trumpet and stirring strings. “When it’s gone – it’s gone” is the message – and it’s one you can’t argue with. “Summer in your eyes”, another co-write with Nels Andrews follows and it manages to simultaneously combine hope and melancholy, both lyrically and melodically, allied with spacious production that lifts moments of piano and distorted guitar into the mix.

Final track “After the Rain” is also the first single from the album – inspired by an Ansel Adams photograph, it offers a glimpse of hope – its pulsating balladry, held back from bombast with washes of organ and pedal steel leaves the listener with the earworm of “shine on like the road – after the rain.”

Well, I wasn’t disappointed – as stated, I loved the Desert Trilogy and “Sinner’s Shrine” fulfils my expectations in the way that it stands as a fully realised and sequenced work – it’s a proper album, not just a collection of tracks; and therefore deserves to be played sequentially from start to finish – away with your shuffle!
Last year The Desert Trilogy Series soared immediately into my favourite releases of the year and stayed there – and Sinner’s Shrine has just done the same – a magnificent release.

Review by Nick Barber
Released Friday 18th Feb 2022 (CD/digital)
The vinyl will follow eventually (got caught up in the global vinyl shortage).


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