May 2003

Judith Owen - Twelve Arrows
Dog on the Bed Music CD J012
Released: 2003

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2 *
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2 *

Picture Judith Owen as a musical archer. On her new album, Twelve Arrows, she aims a dozen different musical shafts straight toward her listeners’ hearts. And her aim, as they say, is true. She seems to be able to find the most vulnerable areas in her victims and strike hard and deep. But then, she’s had plenty of time to practice.

Born in Wales, daughter of an opera singer, Ms. Owen has always been immersed in music. After college, she moved to L.A., and while there had a chance meeting with singer Shawn Colvin. The result of that meeting was an invitation to sing on a track on Colvin’s album A Few Good Repairs. Shortly thereafter, Owen managed to get one of her songs, "Hand On My Heart," used in the movie As Good As It Gets. Then, an introduction to producer Glen Ballard (of Alanis Morissette and Dave Matthews Band fame) got her signed to his Java Records label. The target was lining up nicely.

But life, as it always does, moved the goal just as she was ready to let loose her first barb. Java Records went belly up almost as soon as they had recorded, but before it released, her album. Only by dint of hard work did Owen wrest control of that album, now titled and released as Limited Edition, for herself. More hard work, and a realization that only she should be manipulating her output, begat a website ( where Owen began a campaign to get her work more recognition. That effort has begun to pay off, as she’s had her songs performed on shows such as WB’s Felicity and Charmed, and is scheduled to make an "appearance" on The Simpsons.

Now she and her trio have released her latest album, Twelve Arrows, featuring Owen, who wrote all but one of the songs, on piano and vocals, Herman Matthews on drums, and Sean Hurley on bass. Two of the songs are duets, sung with, in turn, Julia Fordham and Richard Thompson.

Of all the formats that Ms. Owen could have used, a trio may be one of the hardest for someone attempting to gain notice as a bandleader. The stripped-down setting places a premium on talent; as there are fewer musicians to hide behind. Yet, it seems to bother Judith Owen not at all. Her ability to both craft and sing her songs, as well as her abilities as a pianist, allow the listener to concentrate on the words and music, and not the format.

Those songs deal with real-world, everyday problems. And Ms. Owen doesn’t skirt these issues, but meets them head on. For instance, "Your Not Here Anymore" is built on the old saying "You can’t go home again." It ruminates on what you might find should you feel that you could simply return to your hometown and just pick back up where you left off. Or listen to "Walking The Dog," wherein Owen delves into the fundamental differences between men and women. But my favorite is her duet with Julia Fordham, "That Scares Me." Here she talks about a relationship, with one partner facing her own imperfections and thanking the other for "having the kind of love that scares me" in its total completeness.

The sound of Twelve Arrows is only fair. Despite the liner notes' insistence that an attempt was made at the best sonics by using straight-through, one-take tracks, there is a glare to the overall sound that keeps the listener at arms length from the musicians. One positive -- Judith Owen’s voice does receive excellent treatment. It has a real, live sound that, in the context of this disc, is all to the good.

While Twelve Arrows doesn’t necessarily hit the bull’s-eye every time, enough of the musical shafts strike home to give ample evidence of Judith Owen’s rising ability as a singer/songwriter. But the field she’s entered is littered with talented aspirants. How well the choices she makes regarding her music play out, and how lucky she is, will go a long way toward deciding if she carries home the prize. Still, Judith Owen is someone to keep an eye (and ear) on. I await the next opportunity to see how steady her aim is.