Robert Owens

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Night-Time Stories (2008) , 6.5/10
Art (2010) , 6.5/10

Chicago's vocalist Robert Owens started out in Fingers Inc, Larry Heard's project that released the first full-length album of Chicago house music, Another Side (1987), with Never No More Lonely, besides the influential singles All Over (1986) and the monumental Can You Feel It (1988).

His solo career progressed from the ghostly blues of I'm Strong (1987) to the sensual ethereal house of Tears (1989). The EP Rhythms in Me (Island, 1990), with Changes, almost a cubistic funk remix of David Bowie's song, and Visions, a gritty shout over disorienting Caribbean-inspired polyrhythms. demonstrated a creative vision that extended well beyond the dance club. The locomotive I'll Be Your Friend (1991) was both dreamy and playful, while Was I Here Before (1993) was a passionate soul cry over thumping syncopation. Owens mastered the art of juxtaposition and contradiction while refining an elegant seamless delivery.

He became a leading voice of deep house with the EP The Statement (1994), containing the soft fragile Tell Me, the liquid ballad My Heart Is Your Home and especially the jazzy Caribbean trancey After The Rain, as well as with the singles All Night Long (1994), a marvel of jazz piano incorporated into the dance format, and the suave soul ballad Darkman (1995).

The Journey (1996) fused soul, funk and electronica: the upbeat funk anthem Love Will Find Its Way, the sophisticated paradisiac soul ballad The River, and the lush, orchestral, tropical and psychedelic Best Friend (one of his artistic peaks). He followed it with the pounding, relentless jam Ordinary People (1996), the closest he ever got to Giorgio Moroder, the velvety synths and rapid-fire backbeats of A Thing Called Love (1998), and the industrial ballet Bring Down The Walls (1998), each of them an intricate packet of sound.

Love Will Find Its Way (2002) is a career retrospective.

Night-Time Stories (Compost, 2008) is basically a series of collaborations with erudite producers yielding painstakingly assembled house music, notably the nine-minute version of the single Merging.

The meticulous production of Art (Compost, 2010) is almost baroque, especially the rousing numbers Unique, Rise and Exhale And Breath (the latter two produced by Show-B). The tribal trancey meditation Ancestral History, one of his masterful blending of the ethereal and the corporal (Larry Heard), the neurotic electronica and percussion of Step Inside The Moment (Heard again), one of the most psychological and least musical pieces, and Be Your Own Hero (Heard again), that is basically gospel music for the disco, Cherish Your Love (Ajazz), with its contrast of liquid electronica and jarring bass figures, break all the rules with nonchalance. The quantity of music is overwhelming, although the ballads repeatedly slow down the pace. Among the latter, Art (Heard), boasts the most disorienting vocals and rhythm, creating a mood that is perhaps the quintessential spleen of the era.

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(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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