When you've known someone for a few years and you've had the pleasure of hearing and seeing them perform (and rehearse) close up, personal and pressure free. And when you've watched them touring, tracked their progress and heard their development. When you know the new album is coming and you know the talent is there and you hope like mad that it's gonna be okay. When you've just seen them perform a great set at Farmer Phil's amazing 20th anniversary festival. And then, it's out! ... and you you hit the play button ....
From the very first few bars it is readily apparent that this is not just another local lad in his spare room with an acoustic guitar and a music production program.
Oh no. This is serious stuff. This is real. This is proper.
What Is A Man wakes your speakers and your ears up in a hurry with some bang-on, in-ya-face brass that says straight-up, "Oi!! Listen to this!!". and then the opening lyric, an age-old question, what is a man without a heart? Good question. The answer? that's easy, "No-one", as is amazingly sung in chorus following Dan's maturing voice, absolutely pitch perfect and tonally
rich, in verse and bridge, (pre-chorus to some), delivered powerfully and with sincerely.
As was said in a previous review of Dan's live performance, regarding his "owning" of songs, it is no surprise that since Dan composed all of the songs on Stay Awake With Me that his "ownership" of these songs comes across so well. Due, to at least some degree, no doubt, to the excellence of the arrangements and production. Of course, Dan is not just voice, he is an very accomplished guitarist, comfortable with harmonica and several other instruments.
Now, with this his debut album, Dan Owen shows that he is also a VERY good songwriter.
There is little of the old 'Blues Boy' on this album except for an inkling of acoustic blues and that genres' style on but three tracks. Hideaway, which opens in murky swamp-grunge territory. A glimmer of the gruff that Dan was known for back in the day. The production moves the feel away from the southern American states though, and the song develops into a monster of production with Dan literally soaring amongst the angels. There is some good guitar work going on there, too, but you have to listen for it.
Call My Name is another track that has more than a hint of the 'Blues Boy' about it. Acoustic guitar, stomp box, harmonica and a little extra whisky in the jar.
Similarly, the final track, Splinter begins in very bluesy fashion with some lush effects on background voices providing cool counter-melody / riff, doubling the guitar. A nice touch. As with Hideaway, although not to the same extent, Splinter becomes a big production number with lots to enjoy and appreciate.
So let's be certain. STAY AWAKE WITH ME is aimed straight and square at the pop/pop-rock daytime Radio 2 market. The performances by all players, engineering, production, voices, everything screams RADIO 2.
Don't think for a moment that this is criticism, because it isn't.
'Blues Boy' fans might not like it. There are some that might sneer at such things and think 'pop' to be trivial or that this change in style is somehow a sell-out.
Personally, I appreciate the efforts that artists, producers and others involved go to, to provide a style and quality that will appeal to the most numbers of people possible for any given song, and Radio 2 type radio stations are the most popular in the world. So, I like to think of this album as being the vehicle for the 'definitive' versions of these songs. It wouldn't surprise were Dan to pick up an acoustic anywhere and perform any of these songs on his own with no other backing at all. They would still be great songs, excellently performed with enthusiasm and integrity.
I am not known for pulling my punches when it comes to my likes and dis-likes of things musical and the 'industry' as it is now. I have listened to STAY AWAKE WITH ME several times and some tracks many times. I have already stated that Dan has proven his song-writing skills with having written all of these songs, but it is also now evident that his voice has become even more powerful than it ever was and his range is now completely crazy.
Any faults? I listened intently and I listened casually. Nope, I heard nothing out of place, nothing.
Verdict? This album is huge. All of it. From start to finish.
Songs, tick. Production, tick. Arrangements, tick. Vocals, tick.