A literate album from an observant songwriter
Owen Temple is a singer-songwriter with a sociologist’s eye. His third collaboration with producer Gabriel Rhodes extends a string of albums that looks at people, society and the interrelationship between the two. The triptych began with 2009’s Dollars and Dimes, inspired in part by Joel Garreau’s The Nine Nations of America and his thoughts on the shared beliefs that bind people across geographies. On 2011’s Mountain Home, Temple narrowed his focus to the emotions and situations that frame individuals and create identity. For his latest album, he draws from Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects, threading his songs with observations of the things people make, including physical objects, relationships, and as demonstrated by his latest set of songs, art.
The self-defining act of songwriting dovetails neatly with Temple’s stories of people finding their place in the world. His characters build identities around concrete artifacts (“Make Something”), ephemeral accumulations of power (“Big Man”), mythical cities (“Cities Made of Gold”) and the relationships they form with others. Temple layers his creation theme with the metaphorical garden of “Homegrown,” and its suggestion that building something worthwhile takes time and attention. Rebuilding too, as “Johnson Grass” imagines a retired LBJ groping for a new identity. As a thesis statement, the album’s title track suggests that humanity’s most indelible mark is houtis stories, and by obvious association, our songs.
Temple’s songs are entertaining, but meant to be more than entertainment; the current batch grew out of a five-month-long song-a-week challenge with the Band of Heathens’ Gordy Quist (who pitched in to co-write “Cracking the Code” and “Six Nations of Caledonia”). The material, however, came from Temple’s ever-observing songwriter’s eye. His lyrics outpace his melodies at this point, but the mostly low-key backing tracks include solid rhythm from Josh Flowers (bass) and Rick Richards (drums), graceful steel licks from Tommy Spurlock, and a handful of everything from multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Rhodes. Temple continues to emerge as a philosophical man who promotes empathy with the shared feelings, observations and stories of his songs. [Â©2013 Hyperbolium]