Judith Owen entertains and confronts with latest album Somebody’s Child
Despite having pulled an all-nighter, singer and songwriter Judith Owen still seems to command a whole lot of energy. She’s on her tour bus, on the road to Ann Arbor, answering the phone with way more lucidity than should reasonably be expected of the sleep deprived.
She’s touring as special guest of pop icon Bryan Ferry. Accompanied by legendary bassist Leland Sklar, percussionist Pedro Segundo, cellist Gabriella Swallow, and violinist Lizzie Ball, Owen is soon heading to the River Cree Casino to showcase that same energy through her diverse and introspective musical style.
Owen’s latest album, Somebody’s Child, contains both joyful reflections on romance and almost unnervingly honest examinations of first world sensibilities. The title track falls into the latter group.
“I had this song which was an experience of mine in Manhattan in New York City in the winter,” says Owen. “I saw this really beautiful girl, young girl, basically barefoot, wearing trash bags for clothes. Hugely pregnant, belly sticking out between these two black trash bags, ready to give birth. High on drugs, homeless, singing and dancing to music in her own head. I turned the corner onto Fifth Avenue and saw her and I just ran across the street because I didn’t want to be confronted by this exquisite, I mean it really was a beautiful sight. At the same time, it was a most terrifying thing to see and a reminder of how fragile our lives are.”
That encounter is something Owen, who has dealt with issues of depression and mental illness, says forced her confront and meditate on what’s important in her life. Not content with simply writing songs about social issues, Owen and her husband Harry Shearer, best known for his work on The Simpsons and for his role in This Is Spinal Tap, are both active philanthropists.
“My husband and I do a Christmas show every single year,” says Owen. “We do a tour in America and Britain and we raise money for various charities, and for the last few it’s been specifically for homeless shelters, for runaways, for young people on the streets. I do look at people very differently, and I always felt heartbroken and gave money or food to people on the streets. It means even more to me now.”
Owen was born into a deeply musical family. Her father was an opera singer at the Royal Opera House. Between watching from backstage, and growing up in a house full of songs and singers, Owen says her upbringing gave her a well-rounded appreciation for music.
“He would wake up every morning and be singing and practicing his scales,” says Owen. “You have to get your voice opened up and get it moving. I’d be hearing music all the time, usually 8 a.m. in the morning …There was always music, but the interesting thing was my family I think, was my mum and dad had a real love of black music, and of jazz, of beat, soul, Motown, gospel, the blues.”
Those diverse influences are on display in Owen’s body of work, one that has been developing since the ‘80s. Despite the discomfort that comes with presenting a listener with a sometimes-unwelcome thought, and in this case also sleep deprivation, Owen has a clear goal with her music.
“I’m here to write music that people want to listen to and enjoy, and they love the music and they love the melodies,” says Owen. “It has to reach you, it has to move you in some way, but I am of the belief that you can actually say something. You can be emotionally intelligent in your lyrics. You can bring something. You can entertain and be confrontational.”
Wed., Aug. 9
Bryan Ferry w/ Judith Owen, $63-$105
River Cree Resort & Casino