One may be forgiven for having not heard of Judith Owen, but there’s no excuse for not falling in love with her songs after listening to them live. Presenting a perfect mix of well-honed theatricality and raw sincerity, with a hefty dose of passion thrown in, Judith’s been on a roll for a decade now, and "Somebody's Child" – the album she played in Toronto in its entirety as part of a short promotional tour which precedes the singer’s longer trek opening for Bryan Ferry – is an up-to-date summary of Owen’s modus operandi. Crowned by lazy standing ovation, a very Canadian thing, at the soirée, these musical stories are both romantic and rooted in reality and, therefore, highly engaging, especially given the artist’s outgoing personality.
What may not be so obvious, though, is a songcraft, or musical witchcraft, behind them. Living in America and possessing the L.A. kind of showmanship, the Welsh chanteuse still has the same British way of delivering a piece that made Sandy Denny special, but there’s also something of Randy Newman to Judith’s wrapping of words around a melody. From the bittersweet sympathy of the record’s title track to a stop-motion roll of Owen’s take on “Aquarius” and the whole gamut of emotions in between, it was a riveting concert for a culturally pampered, if appreciative, audience, with a lot of humor and, well, defiance in the face of the expected which the singer doesn’t seem to tolerate.
In the neo-Gothic luxury of the “Windsor Arms” hotel – the columns of its “Courtyard Cafe” elicited Judith’s delight – all this could sound rather chamber-like, even with Owen’s camping it up at a Steinway grand and running for some Rachmaninoff to suit the surroundings, if not for her fantastic band. They might seem like a motley crew – rock-solid yet sensual Leland Sklar on bass, graceful Pedro Segundo on percussion, and a string trio of a psychedelic stripe, cellist Gabriella Swallow painting spaced-out patterns over a song – but together the ensemble added vivid colors to the singer’s velvet-dark performances… or was it just dimmed lights that gave them a bit of gloom? No matter what, she shone all the brighter for this. And Judith Owen’s light is what stays with those who witness her on-stage; there’s really no excuse for not letting it fill your soul.
Judith Owen returns to Toronto on April 2nd, 2017, for a date at “Gallery 345” (345 Sorauren Avenue).
Photo © Barry Roden