Like Wax, she’s been open about her battle with depression, and a good deal of the songs on her new album Some Kind of Comfort centre on this theme. In the relaxed, cosy confines of the Pizza Express Pheasantry on the King’s Road, she performs them with the kind of intensity one only finds in a performer singing from experience.
After opening with a smoky, bluesy version of The Police’s “Walking On the Moon” Owen immediately gets us onside with a stern rejection of celebrity culture (something she knows a good deal about living in the States with her actor husband Harry Shearer). Seeing Christopher Biggins rubbing shoulders with Jude Law at the Ivy Club is, she tells us, an “abomination”.
Despite struggling with a sore throat on the night I attended, she nevertheless rose to the often strong vocal challenge her own material presents. Songs such as “Fraud” and “Tell Me” put one in mind of Tori Amos or Kate Bush with their iconoclastic lyricism and heavy folk influence; there are even, dare I suggest it, shades of that favourite bathtime balladeer Enya.
Reflections on her childhood near the Welsh Mumbles provide an insight into the troubled and introverted beginnings that led Owen to express herself in song. “Everybody Wants” and “Pretty Girls” are stinging rebukes of the vanity and materialism she clearly feels have caused many of the psychological problems that seem endemic in contemporary society.
A rhythmic, bassy cover of The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” lifts the mood and provides an ideal showcase for her superb cellist Gabriella Swallow, while the encore number “Here” is an almost Josh Groban-esque ballad for the ones we’ve lost.
There is much to admire here, and a good evening is pretty much guaranteed. But I’d like to see Owen more often stretch her material beyond the confines of her depression to provide a little more light to the, albeit powerfully performed, shade.
- Theo Bosanquet
Judith Owen performs at The Pheasantry again on 20 March 2012, with a special 2 for 1 deal on all tickets