BORN and brought up in Leith, singer-songwriter Dean Owens’s first trip to the United States was something of an eye-opener.

He landed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and was “blown away” when he first saw the desert – the dry, open landscape a stark contrast to the frequently dreich weather and grey surroundings of his home city.

It whetted his interest to find out more and he began to read up on the history of the Native American people, with their forced displacement echoing the tragedy of the Highland Clearances.

“It was interesting because they were forcibly removed from their land in Scotland and many emigrated to America,” said Owens. “Some married the indigenous people but many immigrants also became part of the problem and benefited from the removal of the Native Americans.”

Frequent visits to the United States followed as Owens built up his musical career and, each time he visited, it sparked ideas for songs.


THEY told of the displacement of people, refugees and ethnic cleansing, and the result is Buffalo Blood, an album that is to receive its world premiere this month at Celtic Connections in Glasgow.

While many of the songs are written by Owens, it is an international collaboration with three Nashville-based musicians. One is the producer of Owens’s last two albums, Grammy nominee Neilson Hubbard, along with Joshua Britt and Audrey Spillman who have also previously worked with the Scot.

The National:

The album itself was born in the heart of the New Mexico desert, recorded on location around Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu – known to many as the setting for much of the hit TV series Breaking Bad.


THE songs and music of Buffalo Blood are the musician’s response to the area where it was recorded with the heat, dust and stark, spectacular beauty of the canyons and red rocks evocative of the indigenous people who lived there before. Recorded outdoors, it is an unusual sound with the noises of animals and birds in the background.

“It’s quite a spiritual recording to be honest,” said Owens. “Playing it in the Mitchell Theatre will be a contrast from the desert but I’m very excited about it. It is a project that I have been really passionate about and it’s taken a long time to get to this stage.”

The music draws on a wide range of influences, including Scottish and Southern states’ folk roots and Americana. There’s a vital universality to it, underpinned with the musician’s belief that art is one of the most powerful tools we have to connect us.


THE song that kicked off the whole project is I’m Alive, Owens’s response to the feelings he had when he first saw New Mexico.

The National:

“When I landed in Santa Fe about 20 years ago I was blown away by the desert,” he said. “I had this feeling of being really alive in this dead place and everything stemmed from that.”

To make Buffalo Blood, the musicians decided to decamp from their cosy studio spaces, following the Native Americans’ enforced displacement over 1300 miles from Nashville to New Mexico, to spend a fortnight way out in the desert to record the music.

“We didn’t set out to follow the Trail of Tears – it just happened,” explained Owens.


IT wasn’t the only one.

“Strangely enough the first song on the album is called Ten Killer Ferry Lake – I had seen this place in middle of Oklahoma on a map some time before and was fascinated by it and as we were travelling we realised the end of

the Trail of Tears was round about this place. It all felt like it was meant to be.”

After seeing this, it was decided to rename a song, previously called The Lake, as Ten Killer Ferry Lake.

Most of the songs on the album are written by Owens but all four musicians have songs on it.

“The history of the indigenous people is not something that is talked about in schools and a lot of white Americans are ashamed of what happened so it was good for them to be able to voice their thoughts on it as well,” said Owens.


AFTER Celtic Connections and the Americana awards, where Owens is shortlisted for Song of the Year for the title song from his recent highly acclaimed Southern Wind album, he is going back to the States to do more touring.

He is becoming increasingly well-known there and last year became the first Scottish musician to officially showcase at Nashville’s Americanafest.

The others also intend to make music and Hubbard and Britt, collectively known as Neighborhoods Apart Productions, will continue with their award-winning music video work, as well as other projects including The Orphan Brigade and their own solo work.

Some of their visuals will be used at the Celtic Connections gig on January 25 when Buffalo Blood will be launched.