Dan Owen: Stay Awake With Me

review dan owen x1 cong

When we saw that Owen had his own nickname, “Blues Boy Dan”, we were expecting tedious noodling and long guitar solos, but there’s none of that. Instead, what you get is a bloke with a bluesy voice playing slick and commercial bluesy rock. He reminded us of Marc Cohn and also one of our favourites, cult singer Bob Schneider, from Austen. Owen is from nowhere exotic: he’s a farmer’s son from Shrewsbury. He’s 25 and started playing at 13.

It’s a solid, commercial album and what we like best is the terrible reviews his fans give him. One review talks about this live show: “powerful gritty vocals…. manic foot-stomping blues… like barely restrained chaos”, and then complains there’s none of that here.

We guess this means Owen is brilliant live but wants to make a career from his music, with an eye on the US market, and has made in a commercial album to get his music played on the radio. It’s a mark of his talent that he can be good live but knows what he’s got to do to sell records. The world is full of great live bands trying to capture that live sound in the studio: it usually makes for routine albums.

The opening track What Is A Man is an upbeat melodic rock tune in the style of the aforementioned Schneider. The chorus is uplifting, Owen asking “What is a man without a heart?” (“No-one” is the answer, obviously). His voice is what gives it the blues, gravelly and touching; the sound of a man who knows the sadness of getting up for milking at 5am on a winter’s day.

Icarus comes next, which slows it down and goes a bit Kings of Leon, but it’s a solid, melodic tune rather than blues, with a strings-led breakdown in the middle. It’s not about flying too high but being confused: “I don’t know if I’m flying / Don’t know if I’m falling / Don’t know if I’m burning up like Icarus” goes the ever-more-attractive chorus. It’s a mature song for one so young.

The same is true of the massive bluesy Hideaway, which seems to be addressed to his music: “my only way out”, he bellows in the huge chorus.

Fall Like Feather is a sad song about a relationship break-up; fans of the “manic foot-stomping blues” may despair but we can see this doing well on American radio, with men in sports bars across the US weeping into their weak beer as they wonder why their gals left (complaining only of endless nights alone while their other half grew fat drinking weak beer in sports bars).

Slick as it is, we have some sympathy with his fans. We can imagine the suitably buoyant Parachute is a great song live, while Call My Name is probably a song that calls for only pins dropping to spoil the mood (before building to a clappy stomper), but both are smoothed out on vinyl (or at least, polycarbonate plastic). The album ends with Splinter, a more bluesy offering that lets Owen showcase his voice.

A savvy performer, we’d guess stardom awaits if he can crack that US market. For fans of Mark Cohn, Kings of Leon ballads, Gomez and Bob Schneider.

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