Twelve Arrows Strikes Its Intended Targets

If you took note of, and admired Judith Owen’s sympathetic back-ups on Richard Thompson’s The Old Kit Bag (Diverse Vinyl DIV004DLP), here’s an opportunity to hear what Ms. Owen can do on her own. The Welsh born singer/songwriter/pianist prepped for this, her third CD, by performing live at an L.A. nightspot called The Joint, backed by Herman Matthews on drums and Sean Hurley on bass. Owen and the rhythm section bravely recorded this set live in the studio in two afternoons and one evening, with a few additional afternoon sessions at the engineer’s home for duets with Richard Thompson and Julia Fordham, and some guest musicians.

In the notes Ms. Owen revels in the performance imperfections, writing “I love that you can hear Herman making ‘yeah baby’ noises at the beginning of ‘Sneaking Suspicion,’ that you hear my teeth clicking (that’s how I keep time) the whole way through, that I played many wrong notes, often sang the wrong words, and even clashed chords with Richard and it sounds great…”

Perhaps if you listen carefully you will hear those things, but as is usually the case when you attend a live performance, you don’t hear the imperfections. Instead, you sense the spontaneity and humanity at the heart of real music-making.

Owen opens the set with “On Me,” a 3/4 time salvo aimed at a clueless two-timer who’s told “Well you wouldn’t know Christ, If you met in Paradise,” among other pleasantries. Like many of the eleven others, the song is as direct and sharply barbed as the album’s title would suggest, but it’s neither bitter nor cynical. The second tune, about picking up and leaving a bad relationship is followed by the effective ballad “That Scares Me,” a lover’s heartfelt “thank you,” on which Owen vocalizes effectively with Julia Fordham.

The craftily ordered set list follows that with Owen’s breezy, rocking analysis of basic male/female incompatibilities. Her take is that you have to deal with it to make a relationship work, but sometimes she’d rather be “Walking the Dog.” Then it’s back to the heartache with “You’re Not Here Anymore,” the set’s most effective performance and most memorable tune. It’s a “So Far Away,” kind of song Carole King would be proud to have written. The “first and only take” performance was so good that Owen and her team decided it couldn’t be bettered.

Owen’s cover of Chris Cornell’s “Black Hole Sun” off of Soundgarden’s Superunknown (originally available on a double LP set), is so effective, if you didn’t know better, you might think it was hers. The album ends with the love song “Poseidon,” in which Richard Thompson pays Owen back for her superb contributions to his last album. The two clearly have a special musical rapport.

This is a self-produced album that delivers far more than the usual self-produced conceit. Owen is a thoughtful songwriter whose lyrics are to the point and compelling. While her melodic inventions are not as consistently well developed here as her lyrics, the tunes are all impressively compact and well crafted. Owen’s vocal style is pleasingly direct and shows great physical and emotional range: she can be convincingly playful, tender or edgy—sprinkling on a rough-edged hoarseness as needed—and her effective piano playing is muscular and spare—also in a Carole King kind of way.

The fine sounding production is appropriately spare and honest, with plenty of space in the mix. The drums sit way back on the soundstage with a pleasing backdrop of room sound, while the richly rendered piano is placed further forward. The vocals sound a bit more compressed than what you’d find on an ‘audiophile’ type recording, but overall the sound is as pleasing and inviting as Ms. Owen’s winning personality. Photography is by Owen friend Jamie Lee Curtis. Husband Harry Shearer contributes no voices, but surely must have contributed to the good humor that seeps from the performances. I’d bet Judith Owens live would be a great show and she’s currently on the road (November 21st at The Bottom Line in NYC). For more about Owen visit her website:

gimmegimme's picture

It struck the intended target and those targets are loving it. Interesting huh? - YORHealth