Twanky Records [Release date 06.05.16]
Pianist-singer-songwriter Judith Owen has come up with just about the perfect ‘easy listening’ album.
Genre hopping, from the influences of the very best from Laurel Canyon to Stevie Wonder and everything in between, she puts the former Queen of cool, Norah Jones in the shade with her eleventh release.
Frankly, I’m stunned. Why have I not heard of this woman before? The other major surprise is that she hails from Wales – even if she did relocate to America over 20 years ago, marrying Harry Shearer (Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls and The Simpsons’ Mr Burns).
But it was her last album Ebb & Flow (2014) that was something of a watershed with her recruitment of drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Lee Sklar, and guitarist Waddy Wachtel – whose collective playing underpinned some of the finest releases of the Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne era.
And like that in that era, Somebody’s Child sees the vocals and piano at the centre of some sublime complementary playing. There’s pop, there’s jazz, there’s R&B, there’s soul, and there’s soft rock. Just listen to ‘Tell All Your Children’, with its dreamy vocals, relaxed bluesy guitar lines, and subtle Motown backing vocals. A consummate demonstration of how less can be so much more.
The phrasing on ‘No More Goodbyes’ echoes Stevie Wonder circa ‘Living For The City’, the achingly beautiful ‘No More Goodbyes’ has distant elements of Sting’s ‘Fields Of Gold’, and ‘I Know Why The Sun Shine’s unashamedly borrows from Sergei Rachmaninoff.
A trademark of Owen’s career has been her deconstruction of songs by the likes of Deep Purple and The Police, and Ebb & Flow featured a marvellous reinvention of Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime.
On this occasion Roxy Music’s ‘More Than This’ recorded on Bryan Ferry’s piano in a London studio – gets a stunning, virtually unrecognisable, makeover. There’s also a very fine adaptation of ‘Aquarius’ from Hair.
Quality just oozes out of every aspect of Somebody’s Child, in a way that’s seldom heard these days. A record to savour. ****
Review by Pete Whalley
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