15 tracks / 54:52
Vocalist Charlie Owen has experienced both coasts of the United, States, and apparently has decided that the eastern seaboard is home. Originally hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, he grew up in Washington D.C., where he started his music career. Charlie was a member of the house band at the Stardust Lounge in Maryland, which was a stopping place for many national acts during his tenure in the 1970s. In 1981 he headed off for the San Francisco area where he fronted the Dynatones and was the singer for the house band at Larry Blake’s Rathskeller in Berkeley.
Today he is living in Maryland again, but he brought a little of the city by the bay along with him this time. His new CD was recorded in San Jose, and Owen called on some of San Francisco’s finest sidemen in to the studio to join him. Charlie takes care of the vocals, and is joined by Todd Swenson on guitar, Steve Ehrmann on bass, Paul Ravelli behind the drum kit, Rob Sudduth and Johnny Bamont on saxophone, and Marvin McFadden on trumpet. Jim Pugh was the producer, and also handled the keyboard chores.
Worth the Wait celebrates the heyday of American rhythm and blues, and it includes 15 covers that are mostly from the 1960s and 1970s. The album starts off with Sam Cooke’s ”I Sowed Love and Reaped a Heartache.” The spirit of the 1968 version is maintained, and there is a lot going on in this song. There are horns, synthetic strings, a rolling bass line, and a pair of backing vocalists (Cary Sheldon and Kathy Kennedy). This all does a great job of supporting Owen’s vocals, and you will find that all those years of performing have not gone to waste. He has the perfect voice for vintage R&B – just a little rough on the edges and full of soul.
It is easy to tell from the playlist that Charlie has a few favorite artists. Sam Cooke must be on the list, because, besides the opener, you will also get to hear 1964’s “That’s Where It’s At.” This song features Curtis Salgado singing a heartfelt duet with Charlie, who also plays the trumpet on this one. Johnnie Taylor is also represented by the Sir Mack Rice penned “Cheaper to Keep Her” and “Hijacking Love,” which is pure super-sexy funk.
There are also a pair of Little Milton tracks: “So Mean to Me” and “We’re Gonna Make It,” which was Milton’s only top 40 hit back in 1965. The latter is an upbeat tune, and is the happiest thing you will find on Worth the Wait (there is a reason they call it rhythm and blues). This song is built around Swenson’s jaunty guitar work and Ehrmann’s round bass, and is supported by a much too short sax solo from the wonderful Frankie Ramos.
The standout track on the album is “No Pride at All,” a 1999 song by Jesse Winchester, a talented singer and songwriter who passed away this April. It has a conventional R&B format, but creatively uses electric piano, bells and Christoffer “Kid” Andersen’s electric sitar to set the mood. It might not seem like a good combination when you see it on paper, but it sounds fine when it is coming out of your speakers.
The final track on the CD comes straight out of left field, as “Soft Place to Fall” is found on the soundtrack of Robert Redford’s 1998 film, The Horse Whisperer. Charlie rearranged Allison Moorer’s country version into a bluesy ballad, which works well with the bittersweet lyrics about hitting up an old friend while on the rebound. This was really the only place to put this song on the album, as it is completely different than the rest of the material, and it proves to be an interesting contrast and a good closer.
Charlie Owen has a sweet voice, good taste in music, and a group of fine friends that were willing accomplices for this project. If you are a fan of rhythm and blues, Worth the Wait will definitely be your cup of tea. Check it out if you get the chance!