Judith Owen's "Somebody's Child" Will Move You
The record sparkles with Owen's witty energy as well as with the depth of emotion she generously delivers onstage along with tenderness leavened by humor, but live, in between the songs, you get the stand-up funny Owen, the introspective Owen, the empathetic Owen and the sly, off the cuff Owen—at least the lines emerge sounding fresh and of the moment, even if they are not, which itself is a talent few musicians pull off successfully.
The Welsh-born musician began releasing self-produced albums back in the 1990s, touring to promote them and building a fan base as eclectic and wide-ranging as her music, which is rooted in 70’s era singer/songwriter ethos—something you’ll no doubt pick up on if you listen to the high resolution file transferred from vinyl below, before you’ve read that she’s backed here by the rhythm section of Russ Kunkel on drums, Leland Sklar on bass and Waddy Wachtel on guitar—names familiar to anyone steeped in 70's era music.
The Minuet-like love song “Mystery” will have you thinking “James Taylor could cover this”. Judith Owen would be okay with that. “Send Me a Line” is a wry, vivacious vamp that pokes fun at today’s askew, smart-phone instant gratification culture. It could serve as a segueway tune in a Broadway show, while “Tell Your Children” sounds like it could have been written in the ‘60s by Laura Nyro, though Owen claims she’s not familiar (I make these annoying comparisons to the familiar not because Owen sounds like anyone else but just to give you some guidance).
“We All Walk the Line” is a sly, jazzy number about idealism, compromise and capitulation. "No More" is a sad, yet liberating “letting go” song Owen sings to the memory of her late mother who struggled with and lost a battle with depression—something she obliquely touches on in the interview below. In concert it was an abrupt mood changer that had audience members closer to, or in tears aided on stage and on record by an exquisitely drawn string accompaniment.
The fifteen songs, include an elegant, economical cover of Bryan Ferry’s “More Than This” and a cautiously optimistic “Aquarius” from the Broadway musical “Hair. Owen sings a “sassy” love song to her man, who happens to be the multi-voiced humorist Harry Shearer. So when she sings “he makes me smile every day”, you know it’s true.
There are bouncy, nostalgic songs, simultaneously rooted in the ‘20s and in the ‘60s and ‘70s and some deadly serious ones I found reminiscent of Janis Ian’s essential Breaking Silence, especially the closer “The Rain Is Gonna Fall”— a glint I only caught after I spoke with Owen.
Somebody's Child is a well-produced, superb-sounding record that, though I’m sure was tracked digitally, demonstrates why digitally sourced vinyl can (and should) sound better than the CD version. This Bernie Grundman mastered recording surely does, especially in how it expresses Leland Sklar’s bass as well as the sweetly-captured strings. You'll appreciate the sound but more importantly the songs will stay with you long after the record ends.