Brian Owens has been called the next great voice of American soul and, although he’s quick to point out he’s simply upholding the traditions of other great soul singers from years gone by, Owens clearly relishes the honors bestowed on him, assuming his mantle with utmost seriousness.
Born in St. Louis, Owens was raised in a musical household of gospel, blues and country music and spent his youth singing in the church choir and soaking up the music of Bill Withers, Lou Rawls and Sam and Dave. But it was the voice of Nat King Cole that resonated with the teen, setting him on an auspicious musical path. Along the way, Owens attended University before dropping out to join the Air force, where he spent the next three years as lead vocalist for the Military band SideWinder. During his time with SideWinder, Owens performed on a number of television shows including Entertainment Tonight, and sang for First Lady Michelle Obama, while becoming something of a YouTube sensation with over 2.5 million viewers .
With his own solo music, Owens has attracted a comparatively mature concert audience that clearly savours his brand of grown up soul music that has critics all aglow. That same audience has been left out in the cold in recent times with some radio programmers, who seem hell bent on clogging up the airwaves with generic R&B. So its small wonder then that Owens, like Ryan Shaw, has received such notice, and he appears takes his “America’s newest soul sensation” tag to heart.
Owens' debut CD, Moods and Messages, coalesces the musical styles of Otis Redding, Al Green and Curtis Mayfield with the retro soul/pop sensibilities of a modern day soul man. And while Owens has been compared to the likes of Sam Cooke, it is Marvin Gaye who is his most notable influence. You can hear it loud and clear in almost every song from the opener, “Soul Anthem (Bring it Back)” - which dives into a splash of Stax-like horns before shuttlecocking into a Blaxploitation soundtrack shuffle - to the joyous first single, “Open (Lovely Day),” on which Owens issues a radio-friendly performance that should appeal to an across-the-board audience.
Any soul man worth his salt knows credibility is just as important as radio airplay and Owens has dug deep to deliver some killer cuts that celebrate the glory of love and life in all its trials and tribulations. The sparse “Till Morning Breaks” feels as if one has stumbled onto a private love letter moment between two soul mates as Owens, sounding like Curtis Mayfield in all his syrupy voiced charm, slow grinds his voice to an almost folksy guitar and jazzy arrangement. “How pleasant is your garden and your wonderful delights, from the essence of your soul to the curbs between your thighs…” Owens serenades his lover with perspicuous imagery.
The music of Brian Owens is certainly worth the attention it has garnered and, with Moods and Messages, Owens would clearly like people to see him as a beacon of hope and celebration in a world filled with much uncertainty. In the process he delivers a fine album that should meet the hopes of classic soul lovers and provide a refreshing change to listeners of modern R&B. Highly recommended.