Review: Owen Temple – Mountain Home (El Paisano, 2011)
Owen Temple – Mountain Home (El Paisano, 2011)
Owen Temple’s last album, Dollars and Dimes, took its concept from the socio-political ideas of Joel Garreau’s The Nine Nations of North America. Temple wrote songs that explored the regional ties of work and cultural belief that often transcend physical geography, zeroing in on the life issues that bind people together. With his newest songs, he’s still thinking about people, but individuals this time, catching them as a sociologist would in situations that frame their identity in snapshots of hope, fear, prejudice, heroism, and the shadows of bad behavior and disaster. As on his previous album, his songs are rooted in actual places – isolated communities that harbor dark secrets and suffocating intimacy, a deserted oil town lamented as a lost lover, a legendary red-light district, and the Texas troubadours in whose footsteps he follows. The album’s lone cover, Leon Russell’s “Prince of Peace,” is offered in tribute to a primary influence.
Temple’s songs are sophisticated and enlightening, offering a view of the Texas west that’s akin to Dave Alvin’s meditations on mid-century California. He writes with a folksinger’s eye, observing intimate, interior details of every day life, and painting big, mythological sketches of Sam Houston and Cabeza de Vaca. The latter, “Medicine Man,” was co-written with Gordy Quist, and recently recorded by Quist’s Band of Heathens. Temple’s music stretches into country, bluegrass, gospel and blues, and he sings with the confidence of a writer who deeply trusts his material. Gabriel Rhodes’ production is spot-on throughout the album, giving Temple’s songs and vocals the starring roles, but subtly highlighting the instrumental contributions of Charlie Sexton, Rick Richards, Bukka Allen and Tommy Spurlock. Temple has made several fine albums, but taking intellectual input from Garreau seems to have clarified and deepened his own songwriting voice. This is an album that ingratiates itself on first pass, and reveals deep new details with each subsequent spin.