Dean Owens Cashback Songs I Learned From Johnny Album Review Tuesday 22nd August 2017


Cash Back (Songs I learned From Johnny) , the 2012 album from Dean Owens, has been re-issued and there was also a show of the same name at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  The title may at first sound like nothing more than a Johnny Cash tribute album, but it is actually far more than that.  This album features 14 tracks (including 2 bonus tracks) and features with the exception of one Dean Owens self penned song –“The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin”, songs either written and sung by or covered by Johnny Cash, and the selection of songs here is more of an exploration by Dean himself into the words and music of Johnny Cash from the viewpoint of one singer/songwriter looking at another and trying to understand how words, music and performance all come together perfectly – a bit like an art student standing in an art gallery trying to understand how a master painter has created the work in front of them.  At the end of the process though, this album is not a copy of Johnny Cash songs but these songs performed as the music and words make Dean Owens feel as a performer.

Johnny Cash is someone whose music over his long recording and performance career is simply everywhere. And chances are that there are many songs out there that you have listened to over the years without ever realising that the man responsible for them was Johnny Cash; his musical influence crosses all music genres, social classes and nationalities.

The songs on this album are selected simply because in one way or another, Dean Owens has been attracted to them not only as a musician, but on a personal level, and you can clearly hear in Dean Owens’ own songs the influence that Johnny Cash and the other writers of these songs have had on Dean Owens the songwriter.  These songs are all about the ordinary man and woman – often at their best and just as often at their worst, and the universally understood feeling of love and loss are a common theme throughout many of them.  With this album as a route-map to Dean’s own music you can easily see and hear how a singer/songwriter from Leith became so influenced by American country music that he has recorded his music widely in Nashville and why “The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin” fits so seamlessly into the music on this album.  This album is the story of Dean Owens’ journey to Nashville via Leith, but also the story of how so much of this music left Scotland originally with emigrants to a new life and a new world, and is now through performers like Dean coming back to us full circle.

It is also important I think to view this album in perspective as when it was originally released in 2012, Dean Owens had several years of music and performance behind him and was firmly established as one of Scotland’s best singer/songwriters.  This is a reflective album by a gifted performer looking back at Johnny Cash as a performer through the words and music of songs, and  examining how all of these factors have influenced his own music and songwriting over the years.






1 No Expectations

2 A Little At a Time

3 I Still Miss Someone

4 Give My Love to Rose

5 Delia's Gone

6 Wayfaring Stranger

7 Flesh and Blood

8  Without Love

9 Sunday Morning Coming Down

10 Cocaine Carolina

11Girl from the North Country

12  The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin

Bonus Tracks

13 I Walk the Line

14 A Little At a Time (Stripped Back Version)


Review by Tom King

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