Judith Owen's "Somebody's Child" Will Move You

It doesn't slight this well-produced, thoroughly engaging record to write that singer/songwriter/pianist/raconteur Judith Owen is best experienced live in concert.

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.

No More

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COMMENTS
gsbischoff's picture

I'm quite interested in your claim about the digital version sounding inferior to the vinyl even though the album was recorded digitally. If they didn't have to all the intermediate steps between the digital version and pressing the LP, why would the LP be better? Dynamics? EQ? Those are generally the differences I think of when it comes down to modern releases, but I don't think those apply here.

Because I compared the digital version to your vinyl transfer and I didn't find anything significant. I'd say it was mastered equally as well on each.

Now I'm generally the one who goes "aww shucks, they brought in a fancy mastering engineer for the vinyl version and left the rest of us with a boring, flatter version!" for a number of releases that I hear have been specially re-released on vinyl---based on needle drops. They tend to have a nicer EQ job and maybe have been created from a more dynamic master.

But here I hear no huge difference. There just a smidge of extra treble added on the vinyl. Even what I expect most modern vinyl releases to improve on, dynamics, doesn't seem significant or even present. There's some distortion on the vocals in a few places that exist on both your vinyl transfer as well as the digital version.

Honestly, I think such a statement should be reserved for when you only get a huge improvement in the mastering, not if both have been mastered by the same people!

I hope you don't take it as any disrespect Mr. Fremer, I really enjoy your articles, I just think that statement doesn't apply in every case, including this one.

Thanks!

Michael Fremer's picture
But to what digital source did you compare the file? I compared the commercial CD to the vinyl sourced from a high resolution digital source.
gsbischoff's picture

I compared it to a download (ahh!!) While I don't prefer lossy compression, I don't look down on it as something that would give me a ruined sense of the EQ. I don't think the both of us are going off separate masters...

But the differences were just that, a bit of treble which the mastering engineer might have added to the vinyl. No improvement in dynamics or anything else.

If it's a statement that they did a good job outright on either format I'd be inclined to agree. It was quite healthy for a modern release---except for the slightly distracting distortion on the louder vocal parts in both cases.

Thank you for the reply!

abelb1's picture

Nice write up, thanks Michael, I'm going to check this album out it sounds cool. On the contentious topic of digitally sourced vinyl, I believe I can hear the difference between digital and analogue sourced LP's. The analogue sounds more whole and natural with the all the bits (or lack thereof) in the right places. I do also listen to digital however. Having said that, I would rather a top flight mastering engineer with decades of experience in the audio industry and digital converters that cost as much as my house to convert the digital files to analogue music for me than trust the process to the designers of my ~$300 DAC at home. I know how my turntable sounds, and I like it and I trust it to be superbly transparent. What goes in is what comes out, so if you can make it sing, then bring it.