Warner Brothers Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: George Agnos


The man who is known only as Owsley (like Madonna or Sable) has come out with an incredible self-titled debut CD. This is definitely pop music for the present with very few retro leanings. And yet unlike too few of today's hot pop CD's, this is a consistently strong CD throughout with no filler.

In a perfect world, this CD would yield a slew of singles and yet it would not be a stretch to think this might happen. After all, a former bandmate of his, Ben Folds, hit the big time without compromising his style. The label is making a big deal of this (and why not?), but the truth is only one song has somewhat of a Ben Folds Five feel to it.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That song, called "Sonny Boy", is piano based and has the same melodic, sardonic quality of the best Ben Folds Five songs, while avoiding the snottiness that mar some of BFF's work. I like the fact that Owsley manages to sound modern without having the bad attitude that today's bands seem to feel is necessary to succeed.

Many of the songs on Owsley fall roughly into two categories: they are either quirky or heartfelt. On the quirky side, you have the opening tune, "Oh No The Radio", a marvel at both sound and sentiment. The song has plenty of sound effects and reminds me of the Fountains Of Wayne (who he opened for on a recent tour).

The next song, "I'm All Right" is the only true nod to the alternative rock scene as it cranks up the guitars while still managing to stay poppish, not unlike the Foo Fighters. "Zavelow House" is about a haunted house and has some nice creepy keyboard effects.

On the heartfelt side are "Good Old Days", a catchy midtempo tune about going back to your hometown and trying to recapture your youth. "Class Clown" is a ballad with a similar theme and even ends with the guitar riff from "Good Old Days". "Sentimental Favorite" is effectively bittersweet and has a nice keyboard part to complement the song.

If there is a flaw to Owsley, I would say it is the tendancy for overly slick production values. While it works beautifully on many of the songs, I think it undermines one song in particular called "Coming Up Roses", a sweet song that comes off sounding like a schlocky ballad. Overall, the songs are strong enough that they did not need so many production tricks.

One thing is for sure: Owsley is the type of CD chock full of gorgeous, inventive, and tuneful songs that will likely stick in your head for a long time. This is a wonderful debut that I recommend to anyone who thinks the pop music scene has gotten stale.

Rating: A-

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© 1999 George Agnos and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.