Redwood Mountain brought their unique musical project to Soundhouse@ The Traverse Theatre tonight in an intimate show that captivated their audience throughout. If you are maybe not too familiar with the name Redwood Mountain as the duo have only played a very small number of shows since their formation last year (the first show was at Tradfest 2017 at Summerhall on 27th April), you will be more familiar with their names – Dean Owens and Amy Geddes.
This musical collaboration project between the two came out of something as simple as a book of traditional American folk songs given to Dean as a gift. This gift, “The Penguin Book of American Folk Songs” was written by musical archivist Alan Lomax (son of musical archivist John Lomax) and published in 1964. Intrigued, and inspired by the words of these songs, Dean started to formulate the idea to put these words to new music, and together with Amy, the musical project “Redwood Mountain” was born.
The next step in the project was maybe not the most logical one but, with a selection of words and new music, Dean and Amy headed off to the recording studio to record their “Redwood Mountain” album. This 12 track album consisting of folk songs from the book, two new songs from Dean and a traditional Scottish fiddle air was released on 27th April 2017 before any public performances. It is from this album that many of the songs in tonight’s sets came. I reviewed this album and gave it “five stars” upon its release. You can read the album review from this link
Redwood Mountain in these songs are taking a journey into the music and history of the common working (and not working) man and woman. These songs are not the glossy, clean and polished world of many songs from “The Great American Songbook” of the 20th century, but words that give us an insight into the at time harsher lives and darker worlds of the people that they are about. With songs like “Katy Cruel”, “Rye Whiskey”, “Run Boys Run”, “Railroad Man” and others we get a world of slavery, prostitutes, railroad men, drunks and pretty much every face of misery and despair that you could ever hope to encounter. Any fan of Dean Owens and his own music will recognise immediately from this description why he was so immediately taken by the words of that book to start this project.
Folk songs like these are important not only as musical history. They are also documents (often oral ones only until one of the Lomaxes recorded them for posterity from people who remembered them) of social history and events that many people in political power would like to pretend never happened. These songs are reminders of the truths of the hardships endured by many people on a daily basis. The words in this book are some of the original stories of “The Blues” and the source for some of the formative songs of Woody Guthrie and the foundation of early Bob Dylan songs. These songs are the recorded history of both the black and white underclasses of America.
Folk songs are also musical archaeology, and few things track the paths of immigrant migrants more than their music. Many of the songs in this book have their origins in England, Scotland and Ireland, so it is only fitting that after all these years, some have simply come back home.
Our two set evening was more than just the songs on the album, but always there was a connection somewhere to the album, either in context, words or music. Many of these songs, as noted, have Scottish and Irish musical roots, so a traditional Scottish fiddle air “Amang The Braes o Gallowa” played by Amy Geddes was not out of place here (and it is also on the album). This music is adapted from the very popular Irish standard “The Parting Glass”, but I think we will support Amy in her claim that it could be the other way around. Another song from Dean’s first solo album “The Droma Tapes” fitted in seamlessly here too, the haunting words and melody of “Strangers Again”.
Dean Owens is always working on some new project, and one in the works at the moment is looking at America and its history from the perspective of the Native Americans. From this future project that should be available next year – “Buffalo Blood” - was the song “Reservation”. This song views from the other side of the “reservation fence” the mass slaughter to almost extinction of the buffalo by the white man to starve the Native Americans of their main source of food and supply of so much that they used in their daily lives.. One song on the “Redwood Mountain” album, “On The Range of The Buffalo” views this subject from the white man’s perspective.
These songs in general are not happy songs, and with Dean and Amy looking as dour (that’s a bit more than unhappy and miserable if you are reading this outside of Scotland) as possible on the album cover, fair warning has been given as to what to expect. To be honest though, I find this odd, as there is real humour in many of these songs, and as always with any show that I have been to with Dean, Amy or any of their musical collaborators, there is always a feeling of warmth and an immediate connection with an audience, and this show was no exception. Dean and Amy could have a second career in comedy together if they ever decide to branch out from music.
The evening was simply “classic” Dean Owens, with everyone, including Dean and Amy, obviously enjoying themselves. Lots of applause too for the music, and in particular Dean’s performance on the harmonica.
Redwood Mountain the musical project has come about because of one book of traditional folk songs, but there are many more of them out there, and I suspect that Dean and Amy may at some time venture further into this vast musical archive.
REDWOOD MOUNTAIN Album Tracklist
1. KATY CRUEL
2. GET ALONG HOME CINDY
3. RUN BOYS RUN
4. ON THE RANGE OF THE BUFFALO
5. THE TWO DAVIES WALTZ
6. EAST VIRGINIA
7. RAILROAD MAN
8. I LOVE MY LOVE
9. RYE WHISKEY
10. FAIR THEE WELL O HONEY
11. AMANG THE BRAES O GALLOWA
12. TAKE IT EASY, BUT TAKE IT
Review by Tom King