The new album features breathtakingly new reinterpretations of songs by the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Soundgarden, Justin Timberlake and more
Firebrand singer-songwriter and pianist Judith Owen has always imbued her original songs with keen intelligence, acerbic wit and bracing poignancy. On her wonderfully engaging new album, redisCOVERed, released on May 25th on Twanky Records, the Welsh-born musician sets out on a different kind of artistic journey, channeling her wildly idiosyncratic and prodigious skills on a remarkably diverse set of cover tunes, and in the process she leaves her own individual identity on each one.
“Over the years, so many people, whether it be [film producer] Nick Wechsler or audience members who hear the covers I’ve done, have always had the question, ‘Why don’t you make a collection of these things because they’re so unique and unusual?’” Owen says. “And I had to really ask myself why I do these covers and why they bring me so much pleasure.”
The answers are found throughout redisCOVERed. Owen’s choice of material – a pop chestnut from Grease (“Summer Nights”), modern chart hits (Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”), classic rock staples (the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”), and ‘70s dance floor evergreens (Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff,” Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music”) – exemplifies the spirit of a relentlessly daring and inquisitive artist, one who also, it just so happens, has a pretty mega record collection.
But covering songs means little if you’re not breathing new life into them, and as Owen puts it, “I don’t do karaoke. I don’t perform or sing music unless it means something to me. I knew I had to make these songs matter to me, to have my truth in them.”
Sometimes connections came naturally, as was the case with a pair of Joni Mitchell gems, “Cherokee Louise” and “Ladies’ Man.” Owen was especially struck by a line in the latter song: “Why do you keep trying to make a man out of me?” “I really relate to that because when I met Joni, I realized I knew exactly what she was talking about,” she says. “She is someone who is one of the guys. She does not lead with her sexuality. She leads with her musicianship and her abilities…. She nailed it in that one line and it really touched me.”
Owen had a similar response to Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and her mission was to pay tribute to the late Chris Cornell and the message she found within the song. “When I heard it, I thought, ‘This is the best song about depression and being in the darkness that I’ve ever heard,’” she observes. But rather than try to out-grunge a grunge anthem, Owen went a different route, bringing out what she calls a “pompous kind of perkiness to it – which is how I feel when I have my game face on. Like most people who struggle with the ‘black dog,’ they have their daytime face that they go out with so you won’t see what’s going on inside. I liked the idea of doing this almost skipping, ‘Take Five’ version of it, which belies the words.”
Her biggest test on redisCOVERed, however, came from a request she made to her husband, actor Harry Shearer, to “choose the more extreme thing, something contemporary that you would think I couldn’t relate to.” The result is a fully immersive torch song rendering of Drake’s hip-hop jam “Hotline Bling.” Owen clicked with the lyrics immediately because “I’ve been in that place where I was constantly waiting for the phone call that would come from the guy who would call me only when there was no one better to be around. That’s absolutely a woman’s song if ever there was one.”
Aiding Owen on this musical odyssey is Grammy-winning producer/engineer/mixer David Bianco (Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Meghan Trainor), who collaborated with her on the albums Somebody’s Child and Ebb & Flow, as well as two key members of her live band, the legendary bassist Leland Sklar (James Taylor, Carole King) and master percussionist Pedro Segundo.
There are also contributions from such noted players as Paul Beard (Bryan Ferry, James Blunt), George Shelby (Phil Collins, Bette Midler), Snarky Puppy member Michael ‘Maz’ Maher, Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter Nicholas Payton, along with Owen’s dazzling London string players: longtime cellist and collaborator Gabriella Swallow, and violinist Lizzie Ball (Nigel Kennedy, Jeff Beck).
Owen’s adventurous re-interpretations of the dozen tracks on RedisCOVERed are as cathartic as they are entertaining, and they reveal as much about her own artistry as they do the original writers. “This is the thing about music,” she stresses. “We always get a different read from the same song. A song means so many different things to different people, and they’re all true. It’s what it means to you that matters.”
Whether as a headliner or as the handpicked opening act for such as Bryan Ferry’s recent tours of Europe and North America, Owen’s live performances have been wowing listeners and gaining fans like fellow artist Jackson Browne, who said of her onstage prowess: “It’s a masterclass on how a show should be done.”
Judith Owen’s RedisCOVERed is available on all formats on her own Twanky Records. For more information, please visit: http://www.judithowen.net