Judith Owen has relentlessly followed her muse, independently releasing recordings that have captivated fans, Hollywood music supervisors, fellow artists and the most discerning critics. With the same determination she has applied to finding her voice, she has also found her audience. Her albums and tours have led to her being featured by NBC’s “Today Show” and NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday” and lauded by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Washington Post and many others.
Equal parts musicality and wit, Owen’s music combines pop, rock, jazz, classical, R&B and theatrical influences. Variety effusively describes her as “a charmer and a seducer, a rocker, and a jazz chanteuse.” The Los Angeles Times, in a Sunday Calendar profile, called Owen “whip smart, soulfully cool and deeply introspective.” The Washington Post praises Owen’s “rare talent for effortlessly crossing genres” adding, “her alluring vocals are a gift that keeps on giving.”
Owen’s newest album, Mopping Up Karma (Courgette Records) is the best representation to date of her singular artistry, which a recent Boston Globe Arts cover story described this way: “…records that blur the line between troubadour and chanteuse, pastoral beauty and urbane sophistication. Her songs are literate, and often melancholy, but also pithy and blunt. She’s been accurately described as the female Randy Newman, but there’s one big difference: Owen’s voice is gorgeous. It’s a phenomenally forthright instrument that whispers when necessary and wails when the moment calls for candor.”
The seeds of Mopping Up Karma lie in a set of recordings Owen began in 1998 for an album she was making with Glen Ballard, whose discovery of Owen performing in the Hollywood club Luna Park led to her signing by the Capitol boutique label Java Records. Setting out to make her first album for the label, she began writing and recording with Clifton Magness (Avril Lavigne) and Ballard, both of whom co-wrote, engineered, produced and played on various tracks. Owen wrote the lyrics and the bulk of the music, and supplied all of the vocals, piano and keyboard parts (organ/strings). The original recordings also featured contributions from such eminent musicians as Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers), who played Hammond organ, and David Campbell (Alanis Morissette, The Goo Goo Dolls), who provided orchestrations.
Owen was inspired to bring the material to fruition for Mopping Up Karma when she recently listened to the songs the first time in years and was struck by how good they were. She then spent months transforming the songs—newly recording vocals, re-mixing tracks, and more—for the new album..
Mopping Up Karma follows somewhat quickly on the heels of Happy This Way (2007) and Here (2006). Happy This Way, a layered homage to Owen’s native Britain, is co-produced by Owen and her longtime cohort John Fischbach, engineer of Stevie Wonder’s classic 1976 album Songs In The Key Of Life. The album is characteristically wide-ranging in mood and style, from fun British Invasion pop-rock to wistful chamber pop.
Learning to be in the present was the central theme of Here, which earned Owen an appearance on NBC’s “Today Show.” Jamie Lee Curtis, a longtime Owen champion, made her debut as a music video director with one for the Here title track.
Among Owen’s most ardent advocates are some of the world’s finest contemporary musicians, many of whom Owen has collaborated with in recordings and tours: k.d. lang, bluesman Keb ‘Mo, saxophonist Tom Scott, Julia Fordham, jazz vocalist Ian Shaw, Quantic and others. Cassandra Wilson calls her “one of the most passionate, mesmerizing, thoroughly creative vocal artists on the scene today.” Jamie Cullum has deemed Owen a “female Randy Newman.”
British folk-rock legend Richard Thompson was so impressed by Owen that he invited her to perform on his tour “1000 Years of Popular Music.” Owen’s considerable contributions to this historic jaunt are documented on a collectable 2006 CD and DVD of the event, where she and Thompson perform music dating back to the 13th century, up to contemporary tracks by Julie London, the Beatles and even Britney Spears.
Owen has become Thompson’s female foil of choice: Aside from him performing on Happy This Way, she was a featured vocalist in recent U.S. performances of “1000 Years.” Owen received tremendous praise on the tour: The Washington Post called her performance “amazing,” and The Boston Herald said she “nearly stole the show.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called Owen “as wildly versatile a singer as Thompson is a guitarist.”
Owen is especially beloved for her live performances. Reviewing her at NYC’s great launching pad for singer-songwriters, The Living Room, The New York Times raved that she “has the kind of wailing folk-jazz voice that slices away surfaces to touch vulnerable emotional nerve endings and leave you quivering.”
The beginning of Owen’s rapid ascent over the last ten years was her 1996 debut album, Emotions On A Postcard, which “Hand On My Heart,” the beguiling single featured in the 1997 Jack Nicholson/Helen Hunt film “As Good As It Gets.” Owen’s sophomore recording Limited Edition resulted in several tracks being showcased in television shows on CBS, NBC, HBO and the WB. An acclaimed third album—featuring a dozen tracks so penetrating Owen titled the disc 12 Arrows—earned the singer, songwriter and pianist an opening slot on tour with k.d. lang. 2005’s Lost & Found release and tour culminated in a sold-out performance at LA’s prestigious Walt Disney Concert Hall. Owen’s 2005 EP Christmas in July begat a fearless interpretation of Spinal Tap’s “Christmas With The Devil.”
In 2005, Owen formed the Warner Music/ADA-distributed Courgette Records with her husband/collaborator Harry Shearer and her manager, Bambi Moé. The partnership insures that Owen will continue to release recordings on her own artistic terms. The influential arts and letters blogger The Head Butler recently wrote, “jazz now favors female singers, and…each year, we get a new one to marvel at. We never seem to get Judith Owen. Our loss…You don’t have to sit in a club nursing Jack Daniels to appreciate [her] deep sensitivity, good taste and exceptional voice of Judith Owen.”
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