WPGM Recommends: Dan Owen – Open Hands And Enemies (EP Review)

Shrewsbury singer, Dan Owen, is on a high at the moment, his EP, Open Hands And Enemies, was released on Wednesday, October 26. It doesn’t stop there, though. His lead single, and EP opener, “Made To Love You”, has reached over a staggering half a million plays on Spotify, topping the Viral Chart in Belgium, entering second spot in France and charting in the Netherlands, Hungary, Turkey and Indonesia.

He’s also gained high profile support from Shortlist, Radio X and BBC Introducing. Furthermore, to celebrate the EP’s release, Dan will be playing a headline show at London’s The Waiting Room on Tuesday, November 15. A nine-date headline tour of Ireland in December is due, too.

Not bad for someone who only discovered their singing voice, out of necessity, really, after losing his singer sister to university, and therefore being cajoled into vocal duties. This then lead, however indirectly, to an acquaintance posting his rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown” to Reddit. This completely spiked his online presence, from a lowly 700 views to about 70,000.

Fleetwood Mac’s legendary drummer, Mick Fleetwood, went on to mentor him and help secure a deal with major label, Atlantic Records. An invitation to Willie Nelson’s birthday bash followed. He saw the latter perform alongside the likes of Neil Young, Sheryl Crow and Norah Jones.

Indeed, how the 23-year-old got to this point makes for interesting reading. A part-time carpentry apprentice, a splinter of wood, shot out from a cut saw a metre away, flew and blinded him in one eye. This could’ve spelled the end of his musical career, but it didn’t.

Owen, crafting a mix of pop, rock, soul, blues and folk, is now under the tutelage of Cam Blackwood (George Ezra), Charlie Hugall (Florence + The Machine) and multi-instrumentalist, Ant Phillips.

The sombre “Made To Love You” has delicate piano and Dan’s gravelly voice. This really lifts to take flight, that voice packing a further punch. There’s real pain, accentuated by the strumming of guitar and beat of the bass drum. The vocal arrangement, regardless of whether it’s his voice doubled up, makes the arrangement, overall, exemplary.

Second track, “Witching Hour”, has a more conventional feel, with drums beyond more than just the occasional thump of bass drum. In fact they really clap, underpinning a song rather grave, serious and impassioned. The closing moments are uber intense, voice at the top of his lungs, an iota away from screaming and shouting.

“Moonlight” is a calm and soothing one, like a peaceful time watching the stars on a clear night, with the stars and moonlight lighting up the dark skies. His voice really roars at one point, before going right down to almost a whisper. Adept dynamics. The track then ends with a flourish of acoustic guitar, guitar of which plays right throughout.

The intimate “Closer (Home Recording)” sees him turn on heartthrob mode. It’s a mixture of stripped back, just acoustic guitar, and pure belting out vocal. An aside of whooping, almost falsetto, takes the track to a new place. Then there’s a refrain, just those vocals as ferocious as a roaring lion, to snap you out this tuneful reverie. Another flourish of acoustic to end the track.

Standout tracks are “Made To Love You” and “Witching Hour”. With the former, his signature gravelly voice broods moody in quite a sparse backdrop. Things then soar. It’s so impassioned and strikes a perfect balance between mostly sedate instrumentation and searching, imploring vocals. A definite candidate for best track on the EP.

The latter, meanwhile, is a departure of sorts. Just going to show how diverse an artist he is. This is beyond intermittent hits of the bass drum, and things really open up and kick off. As good as the previous track is, in this one both the instrumentation and vocals are searching. Those vocals, perhaps, even more so because of how raw, loud and untamed they are. The uppermost roar of a lion.

The second half of the EP definitely deserves at least some plaudits, too. “Moonlight” displays the opposite end of his range, as he practically whispers at one point. This contrasts so much to his style throughout the song, that it can’t be anything other than excellent dynamics on his part.

The concluding track, “Closer (Home Recording)”, sees quite a departure from his mainly masculine vocal style. In this heartthrob instance, almost falsetto whooping among other things, it almost veers the song into another direction. Quite progressive and exploratory, in fact.

Dan Owen knows the dynamics of good music. He can do delicate acoustic, and then the cacophony of a full on roar. Many artists within similar genres are always in danger of being bland, but’s he definitely a lively one. His voice alone would set him apart, but his sense of dynamics makes it a country mile. Dan Owen’s Open Hands And Enemies EP can be purchased on iTunes, here.

Also visit his Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and website pages, to keep tabs on Dan Owen.

Words by Andrew Watson

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