The real second album from Minnesota's veteran Michael E. Owens (not to be confused with a guy with almost the same name) is a real gem that seriously shouldn't pass unnoticed. 15 tracks, of which the last one is a live bonus cut from Owens' reunited band Fingerprints, have been released on his own label and self-produced and engineered in his own Blackberry Way studio divinely: it often happens that the drum machine that he used on this record sounds so warm to have you believe there's really a person behind the drum kit. As to the rest, he sings and plays almost all the remaining instruments besides a few guest vocalists and musicians.
The production turns out to be crystal-clear and powerful, whereas the mixing work remains in movement between L, C and R within each of the 14 studio tracks, which contributes to the composition fluidity during the 63 minutes (including the bonus from the documentary "Jay's Longhorn"). Lastly, the mastering was performed by winning Andy Walter at the world's most popular studio, Abbey Road in London, UK.
The CD is held inside an elegant slim cardboard digipack. We immediately notice from the front cover artwork depicting Mr. Owens playing his favourite guitar what music genre we're about to deal with. The artwork style is a tribute to Andy Warhol's Pop Art in general. To the right of Mr. Owens' picture are his name and the album title written in simple and clear letters, which is another good coupling to the music and the sounds you'll find here. More specifically, he was photographed during a performance and this is clearly visible from the spot light falling on his face from above; later the photo was divided into 4 unequal parts, of which the one on the left up was effected as in a negative film, while the colours of the other 3 portions were staunchly manipulated.
On the rear the song titles
were placed on a background made of blue fabrics, whilst the inner digipack contains a panoramic photo split in two depicting the studio room with all of the instruments utilized for the recording of this lot of tracks. The notes inform us that all songs were composed by Mr. Owens and report all of the guest musicians' names track by track. Finally, the disc itself shows the same photo present on the front cover of the digipack in its original form, that is without any retouches.
The wonderful lyrics cover different situations and feelings, such as a creepy guy,
the touching story about the meeting of one's soulmate, a traumatized soldier back from a war, a scary old man, someone rich at the center of the attention, a girl falling in love, someone who's being denied access to heaven, someone very happy, someone else who can't forget their ex, dreams, etc.
The catchy piano-based opener "Comic Book Creep" perfectly reminds us of a saloon where Rock and Blues are usually being played in front of customers in love with George Strait; there are a fiery guitar solo from guest artist Curtiss A and Owens himself, brief horns interventions, some lively drumming, and female B52-influenced backing vocals, too. We have to notice that despite the age, Owens' voice sounds way younger and this is even more audible in the following "A Song for You", where the lead and the back-up vocals sound incredibly arranged and executed, while piano and bass stand out in other spots of this agreeable, classy and classic ballad. A guitar solo using the slide technique is the final ingredient of this first highlight of the platter.
Spicy Punk Rock enriched by organ lines
and cheeky psychedelic guitarwork mixing The Monkees, The Ramones, The Beastie Boys, The Doors together with a personal touch seem to be the main characteristics of "60 Cycle Rumble".
The very organ played by Glenn Manske, an important pawn in Owens' come-back, reappears in "Used Blues"; just like the title hints, we're before a kind of Blues Rock where organ and hoarse, yet delicate Bluesy vocals take the main stage embueing it with sadness; all of that gets supported by precise repeated guitar licks and fat, loud drums similar to the ones you can hear during a live show. The piece is embellished by a gentle, soulful, long guitar solo by Fingerprints' bandmate Robb Henry and female vocals in the vein of legendary actress and singer Marianne Faithfull's. The only tiny fault are 2 couples of clippings at the end of the song due to the excessive volume of the kick-drums.
"Without Sin" is a dreamy, lengthy composition which distinguishes itself thanks to piano touches and a memorable refrain consisting in a vocal duet. Of course it would have been impossible not to have completed this track with a guitar solo: well, the reality is that we have even two, the former more skillful, the latter more focussed on nuances and heartfelt is faded out like it occurs to every song available on Owens' sophomore record.
If you're fond of sweet nursery-rhymes similar to Xmas carols, you'd better start by playing "Old Man Joad" right now; being Country Rock at its finest blent with The Byrds' and Soul Asylum's vibes, for sure it would have sold millions of copies in the eighties if it had been dropped as a single back then.
Introduced and concluded by faling rain drops, "Chase the Rain" is the only song seeing Robert Longhorst behind the mike, chosen because he can reach higher octaves. Between Oasis and the latest The Stone Roses, the composition contains two guitar solos enjoying a more refined edge.
The tom-toms and a few soft piano touches are protagonists of
"Falling", a Pop Rock song with shy echoes and sunny arrangements. Once again the guitarwork does a slow-burn until it's able to enlighten the whole piece and make it less repetitive.
Light-hearted, short and faster, "Over the Moon" revs up and makes you move your foot, especially when it sets a Honky Tonk guitar solo in a frame.
Bar piano sounds along with Hammond sounds rule "Just Got over Being Hungover"; this song has a lazy, drunken pace, a pair of melancholic passages and a pair of penetrating Bluesy axe solos, still mixed low.
Frantic, nervous and not long at all, "You Can't Get in" brings in some modern elements to the pack of music so far delivered due to reverberated vocals and delayed slided guitar sounds that were hard panned to one channel.
Another lullaby with Hawaiian effects, angelic additional female vocals, winding bass lines, is "High Price Shoes". In the middle and at the end two ZZ Top-inspired guitar solos and Deep Purplesque organ lines elevate the piece by making it simply irresistible.
Bluesy licks, raucous vocals, smooth drumming fill the majority of "Hole in Your Pocket", however it's just when the vocals are mimicking the early Billy Idol that this masterpiece is sending thrills down my spine. Glory be!
The vocal performances are key to "The Last Thing"; first because there are interesting reverberated vocal parts, and secondly as a good 3 guest singers pop in this track of Indie Rock throwing in Americana, certain Goo Goo Dolls, The Cranberries and some doses of Tom Petty. Moreover, you'll agree with me that the first of the two guitar solo displayed here does come from the soul and is pretty moving, ending up being the best one of "The Right Kind of Crazy".
Powerful, rough and led by harmonica contributions, "14 South 5th Street Blues" is a Party Rock song played live by 4 fifths of Fingerprints, the band where Mr. Owens started playing in the late 70's, fit for concluding this second offering from Mound's artist, composer and producer.
63 abundant minutes that don't weigh on the listener at all, flowing easy without them even realizing an hour's gone. There must be something special in Minnesota, since we've been receiving only high quality musical material from over there recently, but this album surmounts all we listened to in the recent past. It possesses a thousand and one details in almost flawless harmony that will keep your attention from beginning to end.