Never meet your heroes they say: you're destined for disappointment or doomed to simply walk in their shoes. Although Dean Owens’ boots are firmly rooted in Caledonia, it’s clear that his musical heart beats in, around and along the arterial song lines that connect the music of Arizona and its bordering states: “a wire around the heart of everything that’s sacred”. This is no cultural desert: Tex Mex and Mariachi boldly blend with Country and Folk to create a very particular brand of Americana. Owens had long been influenced by the weeping steel and aching feel that informs much of the area's music. He was particularly keen on Howe Gelb’s Giant Sand and, tellingly, its bastard offspring Calexico, whose masterful ‘Feast of Wire’ clearly whetted his appetite. He was thus drawn to the source: Tucson’s WaveLab studio, home of Calexico’s founding members Joey Burns and John Convertino. That wondrous duo's muscular rattle and hum underpins much of this adroitly understated album. He's a born storyteller is Dean, yet he ditches the narratives and goes straight to the heart of the matter: these are more cyphers than stories. Ghosts haunt the open roads, borderlands and dusty destinations. They are only ever glimpsed, but are omnipresent: displaced revenants whose whispers and moans tell of loss and longing: missed opportunities and broken promises. Dean cannily drops that syrupy brogue a tone or two and floats his beguiling melancholy over his compadres’ perfect rhythms. It occasionally feels perilously close to pastiche until you remember that, that is the point: Owens is there to tip a hat in homage to his hombres. The cumulative effect is one of gracious gratitude.
So: never meet your heroes? Dean takes Calexico's wistful template and gently melds and fashions it into something oblique yet unique: something fine. To highlight individual songs would do an injustice to the album’s artful ambience. It feels like an invitation to a gentle journey: you simply need to surrender. That the beatific finale ‘After the Rain’ makes you want to retread your steps, only endorses Tom Wait’s wisdom: the obsession’s in the chasing and not the apprehending. Owen's intent is heartbreakingly direct and tender: “Maybe the sun won’t always shine/And maybe the moon won’t always glow/But if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed it’s/ I’ll always be here for you.”
'Sinner's Shrine' is not informed by wickedness or worship: Owen's benevolence seeks solace, perhaps even redemption, in the recognition and celebration of influence. That confluence is a river worth crying over. Dean’s dream may be wilfully woozy but it is perfectly realised: spectral yet specific. Before he left for New Mexico, he had told me of his plan: that he had no plan, just hope for a musical journey towards kinship; a yearning to find and befriend the source of his ennui and inspiration. It's an oblique map for a travelogue; but what a trip. Dean Owens left without a destination and, bugger me, he found a home.