Of all the contenders to the Joni Mitchell throne, a club that seems to grow rather than diminish with the passage of time, Judith Owen now seems to have a better shot than most, if only because this Welsh-English expat (and wife of Harry Shearer) had the good sense, with her eighth album, to reconvene Los Angeles’ soft-rock royalty in a studio for the first time in a decade and a half.
If nothing else, fans of the ’70s El Lay sound will want this album just to hear the non-power trio of Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Lee Sklar (bass), and Russ Kunkel (drums) playing together again. It can’t be a coincidence that Owen covers James Taylor-via-Linda Ronstadt’s “Hey Mister, That’s Me Up on the Jukebox.” Or that the most underrated producer of the ’90s, David Z, was convinced to come on board.
The similarities, both to Joni and Cali, end there. Owen is also kin to Norah Jones’ sexy boho and Tori Amos’ mother-warrior, and so even when she’s steeped in SoCal-style professionalism, she’s able to navigate the singer-songwriter genre with her own kind of gentle grace. She can nurture the gospel chords in “Under Your Door” and not come down with a Christ complex, get real “About Love” without bitterness, and declare “You Are Not My Friend” without righteousness.
As they say in California, she’s centered. And in her cover of “In the Summertime”—yes, that one, the classic skiffle novelty—she fully proves her command: from her throat, it sounds deeper than the original’s spontaneous hippie debauch, unlocking the personal freedom of its permissiveness (“You’re not bad, you’re not dirty, you’re not mean”).
Not emotionally complex, steamy, or flighty, Ebb & Flow nonetheless manages to create a warm safe space for emotional survivors.