Here's another good record that fell through my cracks this year but deserves to be mentioned. Gwil Owen lives in Nashville and can write to the country form anytime he wants to - or his checking account tells him he needs to. But on his latest project, Gravy, Owen exercises his soul music muscle, both as a writer and singer.
Once you realize Toni Price has been cutting Owen's songs almost as long as he's been writing them, it all sorta starts to make sense. Working with fellow Anglo-Nashvegan soul brother Richard Ferreira, who produced as well as playing bass and keys, Owen delivers a disc that would have made a great string of demos for Aretha, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, the Temptations - everyone, really - back in soul music's frenzied commercial heyday.
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The title track and "Peace and Love" sound like the Temps during their late-'60s "Ball of Confusion/Papa Was a Rolling Stone" period, while the quiet bluesy lilt of "Cadillac" (as in "Come on, I'm buying everybody a Cadillac") has all the sweetness and down-home dignity of Otis and Steve Cropper singing "Dock of the Bay."
The two catchiest songs, "Don't Break Funky on Me" and "What I'm Puttin' Down," also have the funniest hooks. Ballads like "Mississippi Moon" show that Owen gets perfectly the infinitely small difference between country and soul. In fact, this record runs on a complex axis from Muscle Shoals to Memphis to Motown by way of East Nashville.
Owen apparently doesn't do YouTube, but several tracks from Gravy are posted on his MySpace. - William Michael Smith