Judith Owen – redisCOVERed (2018)

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I initially thought that this Judith Owen album was a dicey proposition at best. Owen has been on a roll, as of late. Her last release, 2016’s Somebody’s Child, was a gem in the singer-songwriter genre. Actually, the album is a gem, period. Ebb & Flow, the release prior to that, made my list of best albums for 2014. She has also played a role in Smalls Change, the quirky new all-star release by Harry Shearer’s Spinal Tap alter-ego Derek Smalls. (Shearer is her husband.) Owen even carved out time for the Simpsons TV show in between successful tours of Europe and America, opening for Bryan Ferry.

RedisCOVERed, as the title suggests, does not contain the kind of evocative and stunning originals which graced Judith Owen’s last two albums. Still, it delivers 12 often-intriguing interpretations. A big part of the success of this May 25, 2018 studio project is Owen’s arranging chops: Her rendition of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” is mesmerizing in its simplicity and power. Owen’s voice is full, emotive and wide-ranging. There’s nothing fake here, as she makes you feel ever note. Stripped of its hip-hop trappings, the song holds up very well as Owen’s piano invites the listener in, while backing vocals swirl around.

Producer/engineer David Bianco returns for another musical go around. RedisCOVERed shines with warm clear sound, despite the various genre represented. “Shape of You,” the Ed Sheeran song, features touches of saxophone, trumpet and organ. The track bounces along with a New Orleans-like jauntiness. This is great fun. Part of the reason these songs ebb and flow so well is Judith Owen’s core band: Bass legend Leland Sklar and percussionist phenom Pedro Segundo have a telepathic relationship, tying elements of rock, folk and jazz into their playing, and making something new out of every song.

“Black Hole Sun” takes a rather weird and unexpected twist, in their hands. The dance between Owen’s piano and Sklar’s bass is delightful, and the addition of cellist Gabriella Swallow and violinist Lizzie Ball transports the song to another level. The results are somehow even more painful. “Hot Stuff” is equally unsettling, but for different reasons. Yes, the subject matter hasn’t changed since the Donna Summer original. The strings are an interesting substitution for the original Jeff Baxter solo, yet the song still retains its smoldering appeal.

“Cherokee Louise,” originally recorded by Joni Mitchell for her Night Right Home album, is even more depressing than the original. The song is Joni at her narrative best, but the tale of physical abuse originally benefited for a more observational approach. On RedisCOVERed, the song is even darker, as Owen is almost too close to the story. It is deep, dark and disturbing. Touches of trumpet by Nicholas Payton swirl overhead as Sklar’s bass and Owen’s piano move you from room to room then into the tunnel under the Broadway bridge.

“Ladies Man,” also from Mitchell, is a different story – and slightly less perturbing. This often-overlooked gem points to some obvious similarities between Joni Mitchell and Judith Owen, and the intertwining of pursuing a music career with the additional element of being a woman whose life does not depend on a man. Owen’s up-tempo piano is stalked here by Leland Sklar’s jazzy bass licks and Segundo’s tasty brush work. No tricks here; this is music at the highest level.

Judith Owen has occasionally issued single covers: “Smoke on the Water,” originally found on her 2005 release Lost and Found, has been in her repertoire for a while. Like “Black Hole Sun,” the song seems like an unlikely addition. Unlike “Black Hole Sun,” the Deep Purple classic is given a new life. Had you never known of the original recording, you would swear it was a Judith Owen’s. The narrative is much more intact here, as the cello, bass and percussion do not overshadow the major lyrical theme.

“Play The Funky Music” is an unexpected and sassy romp. Judith Owen’s piano conspires with Pedro Segundo’s percussion to dance around a tricky time signature and deliver a Crescent City-meets-Motown vibe. This is good fun on every level, and would have made an excellent end to RedisCOVERed. Instead, the often-covered Beatles song “Blackbird” is included in all its glory, with touches of Leland Sklar’s bass and cello from Gabriella Swallow. “Dream a Little Dream of Me” then completes the song sequence, with Owen and piano at their jazzy best.

Simple, nuanced and damn near perfect, RedisCOVERed has met and occasionally exceeded expectations. Perhaps next time, she’ll get to my request to cover Richard Thompson and Steely Dan.


Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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