Throughout Casiotone to Advance Base Owen Ashworth has continued to work in his distinct confessional style that reminds me of icons like Jonathan Richman or Tom Waits. Artists who can get away with blunt imagery and simplistic compositions make it seem deceptively easy to the rest of us. They manage to reach deep emotional places using less, walking the line of being really specific to their experiences and knowing which ones are universally overlooked. Owen just put out a couple more great examples of his raw, effortless songwriting on his own label Orindal Records a few weeks ago. The first is a tribute to Washington Phillips, a turn of the century outsider musician who built his own kind of double Zither. Owen covers four of his eighteen known tracks on this mini EP, and his literal confessional hymns about Jesus take on new meaning through Owen’s contemporary interpretations.
The second single one of the best examples of Owen’s classic songwriting. Guaranteed to hit you at the worst possible time, I’m glad I don’t have “Our Cat” on my ipod so I don’t happen to get dirt in my eye on the subway.
On "Mother's Last Word to Her Son", from the Washington Phillips EP, Owen manages to capture a similar texture as the original less than clear recordings. It’s nothing obviously lo-fi or distracting it’s the simple way the room is mic’d and you can hear everything; the hum from the cables, the click of the hammond keys and a toy piano striking imperfect metal strings. There’s a slight percussion beat that could be a holding click track or generated from one of those old church organs.
Advance Base is perfectly suited to cover these melancholy tracks about Jesus and his higher powers from Phillips. The echo and distance on Owen's vocal even adds to this voice coming down from the heavens and letting you in on Jesus in a comforting way but don’t forget 'He's always watching you'. Advance Base strips the melodies apart into two synth harmonies managing as usual to get to a melancholy place with nothing - or is it because there's next to nothing? When the keys come to a rest, all you hear is the humming silence of an empty room and recording hiss because he approaches the material like a live recording, the kind of thing that he does the best.
"Our Cat" started out as a super limited run of 80 lathe cut singles and due to popular demand has ended up as this repress. It’s from Owen’s classic, cheap canned percussion era which when combined with his vocal style and minimal synth is more than just lo-fi. But the song itself about a lost cat is the star here. Owen's contemplative deep vocal, close to the mic describes checking the local ASPCA’s and hanging up fliers in the neighborhood. I first heard this live and the audience took it lightly, like this protagonist was making a lot out of something as trivial as a cat that didn’t come home. Hearing this original track and it’s lightweight waltz rhythm under the heartbreaking direction this takes is too much. I won't ruin the track, because it manages to capture all the seriousness of the situation and when his voce starts to shake I always get something in my eye. The way pets are made so helpless gets me choked up. The track is perfect because of the minimalism and raw sincerity and I'd bet every word of it is true.
Owen says about “Our Cat”:
Our Cat was first released as a limited edition lathe cut single in November, 2011, & its 80 copies went out of print almost immediately. Since then, not a week has goes by without someone asking me if it'll ever be available again, so I'm finally re-releasing Our Cat as a 7" vinyl EP. Remixed, remastered, & with a new bonus b-side, Our Cat will be available as a deluxe colored vinyl package with original artwork, lyric sheet, & MP3 download on July 23. You can stream the title track, pre-order the vinyl, & get an instant digital download right now from Orindal Records. For international customers, I recommend ordering Our Cat & The World Is In A Bad Fix Everywhere together & saving on shipping!
Get it from Owen's own Orindal Records.