Judith Owen - Happy This Way - New York Times
28 February 2007New York Times
"I don't want you to be happy, because if you're happy, you won't remember me," the Welsh singer-songwriter Judith Owen said on Monday evening at the Living Room. "I want to be the girl who devastated you and left you unable to walk home without a bottle of vodka inside you."
Actually, Ms. Owen was only three-quarters joking. She has the kind of wailing folk-jazz voice that slices away surfaces to touch vulnerable emotional nerve endings and leave you quivering. The young Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones come to mind, as does the Irish singer Katell Keineg. Her naturally jazzy fluency coincides with a melodic songwriting style that at times suggests Burt Bacharach.
After singing her original ballad "You and the Moon," whose Bacharach lilt recalls "What the World Needs Now Is Love," she observed amusedly: "darkness and despair are things you can really build a future on." Ms. Owen, who is married to the actor and satirist Harry Shearer, with whom she sometimes performs original musical comedy sketches, resembled a younger Diane Keaton, with straight, hippie-length hair, high red boots and a black leather jacket.
Accompanying herself on an electric piano, which she treated as a one-person orchestra, Ms. Owen showed how much color and sonic depth can be extracted out of a single keyboard in her radical transformation of Deep Purple's 1970s rock anthem "Smoke on the Water" into a brooding folk-pop ballad with prophetic overtones. On her newest album, "Here" (Courgette Records), she applies the same treatment to (of all things) "Eye of the Tiger." On Monday, Ms. Owen concentrated on material from "Here," whose original songs are blunt, serious reflections on life's changes. The title song, which she said was addressed to her dead mother, is a rueful expression of gratitude to a parent not fully appreciated while she was alive.
The fact that Ms. Owen, who was briefly signed to Capitol Records, then dropped in a management shake-up, has had to go it alone is a discouraging sign that the record industry, which 20 years ago would have snapped her up and made her a star, is in shambles.
Judith Owen played songs from her album "Here" on Monday.
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