United by a record label; united by the rhetoric of song and now united in planting the roots firmly in the ever-popular songwriters’ round. Robert Vincent and Dean Owens are far from novices on a UK circuit that branches out from a core of Springsteen, Dylan and Young. Their latest venture is to team up with the Worry Dolls for a Roots in the Round tour that leaves Nashville out of the title, but is forever tinged with the song writing spirit that epitomises Music City. Midway through this string of early winter UK dates, the guys set about appearing in a couple of duo-only gigs; more roots in the semi-circle than the round. Birmingham’s Kitchen Garden has seen its fair share of highly crafted singer-songwriters pass through the brick-walled interior in 2017 alone, but sufficient room was made for a couple more, and our two protagonists perfectly fitted the bill.
At The Helm Records is the operation responsible for Robert’s award nominated 2017 album I’LL MAKE THE MOST OF MY SINS and if the wheel of fortune pays heed, similar acclaim may await Dean’s upcoming release SOUTHERN WIND, likewise a debut effort on this South Coast-based label. Both records offered material for this evening’s show as each artist set about stripping down a bunch of songs to expose their raw bones to a respectful audience. While there was ample synergy in how these two songwriters ply their trade, significant markers of differentiation enabled this show to flourish without the feel of a procession. Dean has a far more literal side to his art and a grounded vocal style greets the subject of his compositions on a platform of terra firma. In contrast, there is more flair to Robert’s style. This begins with a vocal range that cuts a rock thrust amidst material that appears to veer further in an abstract direction. Both artists were refreshingly candid about their influences that frequently were born from a deep personal experience or feeling.
It was no surprise in deducing Robert’s acoustic version of ‘Demons’ being the prime moment of the evening. Although it was closely followed by, ‘I’ll Make The Most of My Sins’, which seemed to evolve as a country piece when all the full-band faculties were stripped out. Probably the pick of his older songs was ‘The Passage’, and it was of added interest to get an insight to the origin of ‘The Bomb’.
An older song, with a combination of personal connections, titled ‘Man From Leith’ came out tops when reflecting upon Dean’s contribution, which amounted to around eight rotated songs in a brace of sets. It also bodes well that two new picks from the upcoming album, ‘Southern Wind’ and ‘Last Song’, came across as impressive live efforts, the latter constructed in association with legendary Nashville operator Will Kimbrough. Dean was the keener of the pair to invite the inevitable audience participation, with this number in addition to ‘Lost Time’ presenting opportunities for folks to offer a muffled accompaniment.
On an evening where the cast had to re-adjust to their temporarily slimmed down tour set up, there were certainly no complaints in hearing more Robert Vincent and Dean Owens, especially as Birmingham has not been on their touring horizon in recent times. What we were privileged to witness were two outstanding exponents of filtering the ware of their creative inspirations through the precious medium of song. Rob especially has spent a fair amount of time with his band this year and this solo show spun his music in a new and welcome light. Dean often ventures south from his Scottish base in solo mode, but you never know, the new album may present band opportunities this side of the border in the New Year.
Three key North American legends were namechecked in the opening paragraph, but lately, and in sad circumstances, Petty has been the go-to cover in the last month or two. ‘Learning to Fly’ may have lacked the Worry Dolls harmony vocals, but it crowned an enjoyable evening. Conclusively sealing a view that Robert Vincent and Dean Owens are two singer-songwriters fit to enrich any scene that they frequent.