Sometimes an artist can trace the origin of a work to one specific moment. For Judith Owen, the inspiration for the title track on her most recent album, Somebody’s Child, is very definitely one of those. She was walking through the streets of Manhattan on a winter’s night when she was stunned by the sight of a young woman, very pregnant and nearly naked, weaving around, high and barefoot in the freezing cold. “My first impulse was to run the other way,” Owen told me in a recent phone conversation, “but then I thought, ‘This is somebody’s child,’” and that’s what set her off writing a string of songs that seek to go beyond the everyday complacency of life. “As humans we resist seeing how fragile we are,” said Owen. “We don’t always realize how temporary this life is for all of us,” and thus, how precious.
When she arrives onstage at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday, August 19, as the opener for Bryan Ferry, Owen will be playing piano and fronting a band that includes the great Leland Sklar on bass, plus Pedro Segundo (percussion), Gabriella Swallow (cello), and Lizzie Ball (violin). Owen describes this as one of the best parts of traveling the world and performing with Ferry. “Hearing Bryan sing my favorite songs of his every night is great. Plus I’ve got my band with me, and we are very much perceived as part of his show,” she said, adding that “the hardest thing is that those 40 minutes [the typical length of an opening set —Ed.] go by so quickly.”
Of the ties that bind Owen to Ferry, none is more prominent than her heart-stirring rendition of his classic song “More Than This.” Known for her eccentric, ironical approach to covers (wait until you hear what she does with Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”), Owen takes this one straight, or nearly so. “When he sings it, it’s about love affairs, and how they don’t last, but to me, ‘More Than This’ is about all the different moments of joy we share with the people who are closest to us,” said Owen. Where Ferry seeks to bring out the song’s sensual side, Owen tracks to the music’s spiritual aspect.
As a passionate practitioner of classic song craft, Owen makes a delightful pairing with Ferry’s effortless cool. Her taste, style, and musicality are all in the service of a mission to raise consciousness. Asked to summarize the themes she’s been exploring in her writing, Owen said that she hopes her music will help people to sense that it’s “not always about you, about your concerns.” “I write about the big stuff,” she said, “vignettes of life.”
Bryan Ferry plays the S.B. Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.) with opener Judith Owen on Saturday, August 19, at 7 p.m. Call (805) 962-7411 or visit sbbowl.com.