Though he had several albums behind him, we first got to know and love Ferguson, Missouri soul man Brian Owens earlier this year. Backed by the redoubtable Deacons Of Soul, his ‘Soul Of Ferguson’ album was a remarkable piece of work. Inspired by an incident in Ferguson in 2014 that sparked off the whole Black Lives Matter movement, the album saw commentators drawing comparisons with people Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. Indeed the cover photo seemed to be Owens’ homage to Gaye.
Now for his latest album Owens offers something very different – at least that’s what it seems. The man’s new set is a tribute to country music legend Johnny Cash. Owens, though, doesn’t see his takes on Cash classics as something radically different: “One of the things I’ve come to know is that the soul of Johnny Cash is very similar to the soul of me. There was something about his life that resonated with me. What we have in common far outweighs the difference that I’m black and he’s white, and that’s what I want people to get from this project.”
And what do we get from the project? Well, for sure, some fabulous, innovative soul music that will please everyone who was impressed with ‘Soul Of Ferguson’. Let’s start with Owens’ version of ‘Fulsom Prison Blues’. This new take is 100% old school soul. Clearly based on Joe Tex’s ‘Show Me’, it’s a thrilling ride. I’m sure the Tex connection is no coincidence; Joe was country-soul personified and Owens is saying if Joe Tex could do, then so can I!
Other Cash classics include ‘Walk The Line’, ‘Ring Of Fire’, ‘Man In Black’ and ‘Sunday Morning Coming’. That last –a Kris Kristofferson song – has some of the best “down at heel” lyrics you’ll ever hear… I mean “I had fear for breakfast” and “putting on my cleanest dirty shirt”! Brian Owens delivers the line impeccably.
The album also has one non-Cash song, “Soul In My Country’. This is a new song composed and sung by Owens and country star Rissi Palmer. In it they articulate what soul means to country artists and what country means to soul singers. The track also features famed pedal steel guitar virtuoso, Robert Randolph. It’s a great summation of what the whole album is all about.