Owen Temple is a great songwriter, open and honest; you hear the voice of everyman in his songs. So it makes a lot of sense that his newest record is called The Stories They Tell. It’s another intelligent collection of glimpses into lives of characters that he makes seem real. And they never seem more real than when he is telling their stories live. Always funny and charming, he takes the live show seriously, so much so that he prepped for the shows supporting this record by doing some amateur stand-up comedy. He’s a brave, brave man. The willingness to embarrass himself in front of a comedy club audience isn’t the only reason he’s brave, tonight’s show was a one-off on his way to run the Chicago marathon on Sunday. This was to be his third marathon; he ran his first after deciding to take the turn for the full race when he had only signed up for the half. I have to admire his style.
While the new record is great, I still find myself listening to his previous release Mountain Home more. To me, this is the stand-out of his many studio records, and even though he had already played several songs from it, notably the homesick title track, the sing-along history lesson “Big Sam” (about Texas legend Sam Houston) and the absolutely perfect “Fall In Love Every Night” which could be about so many musicians I know, if not all of them, when he asked for requests my hand shot up (the hand raising is reflex). “One Day Closer to Rain?” I asked hopefully, knowing he would definitely play it. When I lived in Texas there were only a handful of days over one hundred, now they have sixty days straight over the century mark. Between that and the near constant drought, how can anyone deny global warming? The song remains hopeful as the lack of rain destroys everything around it. And it’s true, every day they make it through brings them one day closer, no matter how far off it might be.
Secondary evidence of his well-honed comedy talent is his penchant for Gary Floater “tribute” songs. The “worst selling country artist in the history of country music,” an award usually given posthumously, Floater is greedy, misogynistic, clueless, bigoted, plain old stupid, and really damn funny. Given the ridiculous state of today’s country music, Floater’s songs almost seem like they could be a real attempts at country music, instead of incredibly well-written parodies. Temple always includes a few in his set, framing them with Floater’s almost-believable back-story. The title track off upcoming record “Who Cares?” is a hilarious Q&A that answers the title question with “Me cares! Me cares about me and my songs.” Pure genius.
For many years Matthew Grimm helmed the Hangdogs, a country rock band based out of New York, and they played Texas a lot. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he and Owen had played together before. Grimm has just released a new album, Songs in the Key of Your Face (which kinda sounds like an insult to me, but probably isn’t meant to be), a collection of new songs paired with a few choice covers. Some of them are unsurprising, like Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty” (which made for an inspired duet to end the night), while some are a little less predictable. Like Dire Straits’ “Telegraph Road” which becomes a whole new song in Grimm’s hands. In advertising the show I called the new CD, intelligent, hilarious, and occasionally offensive, just like Matthew. “Woody Guthrie’s 33rd Resolution” is as smart a song as he’s ever written, plus it has a lot of words, “She’s Not My Lesbian Girlfriend” is laugh out loud funny, and not to mention true, while “Go the Fuck Home Mindy” is one of the songs that required the advisory sticker on the CD sleeve. I couldn’t be happier that he calls Madison home these days.