Album Review: Dan Owen - 'Stay Awake With Me'
Dan Owen's rocky, blues-infused debut is set to impress both fans and newcomers alike. Featuring a string of hit singles which have garnered support from Radio One and The Independent, it's a strong debut from 'Blues Boy Dan' that has been too long in the making.
Initially, Dan Owen never wanted to be a singer. At first, he harboured dreams of becoming a farmer, like his dad, growing up on the outskirts of Shrewsbury. Then, it was carpentry, having been offered a placement with the guitar maker Patrick James Eggle- although this idea was quickly shattered by a horrendous accident that almost blinded him, the aftermath of which influenced breakthrough single 'Hideaway'. However, throughout all of this, playing music became a release; he spent much of secondary school playing pub gigs with his teacher and his big sister- and, at 15, he started playing his own sets, made up of covers of Bob Dylan, Lonnie Mack and Howlin' Wolf's 'Little Red Rooster', which still firmly features on his sets today. 'Stay Awake With Me' is shaped as much by those days spent learning the trade and playing for farmers and fisherman as it is the experiences which inspired the songs featured on it- which range from the haunting 'Made to Love You' (about male domestic abuse) and the enchanting piano ballad 'Hand That You Hold' to the bluesy 'Call My Name' and the ferocious rock of 'Hideaway'.
Many of the songs on the album will be familiar to fans. 'Fall Like a Feather', for example, was one of his first releases, recorded with 'a 50p car boot keyboard and Christmas cracker harmonica', and released in 2015. Similarly, album closer 'Splinter' features on his 2015 EP 'Bad For Me'- yet both have been subtly revamped in the studio for the album, whilst songs such as the title track 'Stay Awake With Me' and 'Hand That You Hold' are demo recordings retained due to the raw emotion contained within, which eluded Dan in the studio.
The album has a strong opening- literally. The first few seconds of the album are the sound of horns blaring triumphantly into your ears, with Dan Owen crooning into the mic, asking 'what is a man without a heart?' 'What is a Man' is probably the most opulent track on the album, but enables the album to start from a position of strength, before transitioning into the string-laden single 'Icarus', an introspective look into his career; in it, he questions his own success, asking whether he is 'burning up like Icarus', lost in his own momentum. Next up are fan favourites 'Made to Love You', a song stemming from a friend's abusive relationship and how it impacted him, and 'Fall Like a Feather', ostensibly about the end of a passionate relationship which consumed itself too quickly to last. Then comes my personal favourite: 'Hideaway'. Featured on Spotify's 'Best of Rocked 2017' alongside artists such as Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters and Royal Blood, it marks a sudden shift in tone, weaving violent riffs with head thumping beats and his distinctively powerful vocals, and making it seem almost effortless in the process. This is then followed by the equally powerful 'Hand That You Hold', a stirring, melancholy ballad which I can personally attest to being even better live, and the poppy optimism of 'Parachute', before introducing the title track 'Stay Awake With Me'. Written as an ode to his Grandfather who recently passed away, from the point of view of his grandmother, it is utterly heart-wrenching, conveying the pain and loss experienced from the loss of a loved one whilst retaining the intimacy of their love.
This quickly transitions into 'Call My Name'. A dark, foot-stomper closer in sound to that of a work song of the farmers and fisherman that he sang to than a polished result finely crafted and honed in a studio- and it's all the better for it, with a beat that reverberates throughout your body. The album finally culminates in 'Splinter', the song which first introduced me to Dan Owen and a staple of his live performances. Revamped for the album, it now featured a choir to harmonise with Owen's voice, and allows the album to slowly fade out, a stark contrast to the blunt and sudden opening.
Although some songs may seem to be weaker than others, there are no bad songs on this album; luckily, the opposite is in no way true, with the fierce 'Hideaway', thumping 'Call My Name', soaring 'Icarus' and emotional 'Hand That You Hold' being my personal standouts. A profound and formidable debut from a new rock 'n' roll great.
Words by James O'Sulivan