Saturday 21 October 2017

No tricks, just treats from Judith Owen

Judith Owen's rich bluesy voice lends itself exquisitely to singing live in front of her faithful audience

Welsh singer-songwriter Judith Owen is something of a vocal chameleon
Welsh singer-songwriter Judith Owen is something of a vocal chameleon
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Judith Owen can certainly do spooky. Having appeared as herself on The Simpsons in the 13th season episode The Blunder Years, she was asked to sing a spoof version of Shirley Bassey doing a James Bond theme tune at the end of the recent 600th episode - Treehouse of Horror XXVII. It was probably the second scariest moment in the episode - after Homer's 'Ivanka 2028' badge - and showed that the Welsh singer-songwriter is also something of a vocal chameleon, with 'creepy' well within her repertoire.

Mostly, though, Owen is just eerily good. Her latest album, Somebody's Child, was released earlier this year to rave reviews and a warm audience reception as she toured Europe. The poppy, sometimes jazzy collection has overtones of Vonda Shepard, Norah Jones and even Annie Lennox - from whom Judith recently won some high praise.

The album has a cover of her friend Bryan Ferry's classic More Than This and also featured some of the most personal songwriting of Owen's 20-year career, lyrics which are given greater prominence by the delicate production standards.

One of the standout tracks on the album is Mystery, which she has described as being about the "hard job of sharing your life with a partner. How you come together and stay together is a bloody mystery, but it's worth it." Judith added: "I'm with someone who doesn't go by the rules romantically."

That somebody is Harry Shearer, who voices many of the characters on The Simpsons. They met two decades ago in New York, when he happened upon a performance of hers in a hotel lobby, a dismal experience redeemed only by the chance meeting. They instantly clicked and became a couple. Owen quickly adjusted to life as the consort of a cult icon - in addition to his Simpsons fame Shearer is, of course, Derek Smalls from This Is Spinal Tap. (This past week Shearer announced that through his production company he is suing the French conglomerate that controls the rights to the film for over a hundred million dollars, monies he alleges are owed relating to his role and help creating the film). Shearer would help Judith through the worst of the crippling depression which both dogged her for much of her adult life and served as hard-won inspiration for some of her most powerful music, including several of the tracks on Somebody's Child. The couple never had children together - Judith once told The Sunday Independent that she feared a child would inherit her depressive tendencies - but instead devoted themselves to their respective arts and often collaborated together, including on a well-received Christmas EP. The Simpsons icon would also travel to Australia to perform shows there with Judith, in a tour which one critic recently described as a sort of cabaret, featuring his comedy and her music, in which the audience was shuttled between 'comfort and confrontation'.

There will be no Shearer on her upcoming Irish gigs but the simplicity of Judith's sound - often just her bluesy devil-may-care delivery accompanied by a piano, lends itself well to live performances and she got a great audience reaction from her last outing here - a sold-out performance at The Sugar Club in November 2014 as part of her Ebb and Flow tour.

Judith has a strong connection with Ireland - her sister lives in Cork and, growing up, their father, a noted opera singer in his own right, made Irish music a big part of their artistic education. Judith's return to Dublin, this time performing two gigs Upstairs@Avenue, is eagerly anticipated.

Judith Owen, Ft. legendary bassist Leland Sklar, percussionist Pedro Segundo, and cellist Gabriella Swallow will perform two shows on November 4/5 in The Upstairs@Avenue by Nick Munier - 1 / 1A Crow Street, Dublin 2 (off Dame Street) Tickets priced €25 (gen) and €20 (concession) including booking fee are now on sale from tickets.ie

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