“And if that’s what you believe you need, you’re wrong…you don’t need much”
I was a little wary of John Owen-Jones’ album John Owen-Jones when it was first pressed into my hand to listen to by a friend. Despite having been impressed by John Owen-Jones in the 25th Anniversary tour of Les Miserables, I’m not generally a fan of bombastic male singers and having had my fingers burned/eardrums damaged by listening to Alfie Boe’s album, I have to admit to lumping Owen-Jones in with him. But my friend was persistent and admittedly, I was most intrigued by the prospect of him singing Sondheim’s ‘Pretty Lady’ from Pacific Overtures with Michael Ball and Bryn Terfel. So I listened to that song first (how I ever managed with cassettes as a child I do not know!) as I was pretty sure that it would set the tone of whether I liked the approach to the album or not. And sure enough, despite it being three massive male voices, there is a gorgeous subtlety at work here that convinced me that this was going to be something more than your standard pop-opera fare and closer to a ‘proper’ musical theatre album.
Over a nicely trim 11 tracks, Owen-Jones covers a number of bases but surprisingly for me, he ventured into contemporary musical theatre with great success. ‘I’d Rather Be Sailing’, by American William Finn, a composer who I only currently know through people singing his songs at cabarets but who I am pretty sure I think is fantastic, is a lovely piece of restrained singing, multi-tracked to gorgeous effect. Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Someone to Fall Back On’ is also excellent (though Julie Atherton does now own that song, even if it was written for a man to sing).
Of course, as someone who has played both Jean Valjean and the Phantom, it is no surprise that both shows are featured on here with renditions of ‘Bring Him Home’ and ‘Music of the Night’. Neither are bad, both are good in fact, but I could happily go through life without hearing either song again outwith the context of their shows. The CD is stronger when focusing on more interesting selections like ‘Proud Lady’ from The Baker’s Wife or the title track from Kiss of the Spider Woman, and the delicate ‘No Words’.
It is always nice to be confounded in one’s negative expectations and John Owen-Jones managed that very well here with his debut album. A range of interesting selections show a genuine interest in new musical writing that is sprinkled throughout the predictable song choices with a keen eye on the wider commercial appeal. A much more interesting and effective musical theatre album than Alfie Boe’s recent foray, but then Owen-Jones is a genuine musical theatre actor.