Judith Owen – 2/2/2017 – Windsor Arms, Toronto

Judith Owen / Photo © Barry RodenOne 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.

Photo © Barry RodenWhat 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

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