By Janice Malone
FERGUSON, MO — Hailed by Rolling Stone magazine as a “vibrant soul singer” who “bridges a racial and generational divide,” Brian Owens continues to live up to that praise with his new album, SOUL OF CASH. The project features Brian performing songs made famous by country music icon Johnny Cash. The album was released earlier this month globally, with Owens performing a listening party concert here in Nashville last week at the The Back Corner venue, followed by a Q&A with the audience.
So, what does a young African American soul singer from Ferguson, Missouri have in common with a country music legend? Plenty. In the eyes, ears and voice of Owens, it’s all about the music. “The Johnny Cash catalog is full of really great music. It’s just good stuff,” says Owens from his home in Ferguson, MO. “I think what we ended up with on the Soul of Cash project was a well-rounded representation of the different types of music that exist in Johnny Cash’s catalog, whether it be more soul-singer/songwriter based, or country based,” says Brian. “I just really connected with him on multiple levels, like knowing he had a good friendship with Ray Charles, who I am also really into, especially Ray Charles’ country music stuff. And then just discovering more about the journey of Johnny Cash’s life, So, it wasn’t just his music, it was his life, his faith, his views and the way he used music to express his views, and his imperfections, because we all have them on a very human level.”
When it came to song selections, Owens consulted with others who were involved on the album with him. As a result, SOUL OF CASH includes the songs: “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Walk The Line,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and other Cash classics, as well as one original tune, “Soul In My Country,” composed and recorded by Owens and country music recording star Rissi Palmer, and featuring sacred steel guitar master Robert Randolph.
The Cash classic ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ is the second single release from the album. Owens says that he especially loves the song’s arrangement. “The lyrics are the genius. This tune almost didn’t make the record but I’m so glad I came to my senses! This for sure is one of Mr. Cash’s greatest tunes.”
Brian says that he’s never met ‘The Man in Black’ or any of his family members. But Mr. Cash’s son, John Carter Cash. actually posted on Facebook about Owens’ latest album and the single. “He said that, ‘I did some pretty cool takes on his dad’s music and to check it out. That was cool of him to post that,” says Owens. Brian remembers seeing Johnny Cash for the first time when he was 11-years-old, on the old TV series ‘Columbo.’ Cash was portraying a televangelist singing ‘I Saw the Light.’ Years later in his mid-20s, he rediscovered legendary singer/actor in the movie Walk The Line.
Perhaps, the even more cool aspect of the Soul of Cash project was the recording process. Parts of the album was recorded in Nashville and also in St. Louis. In fact, a portion was done in a house that Hank Williams once lived in, as Brian shares: “The songs ‘Walk the Line’ and ‘The Man in Black’ were recorded in that house. It wasn’t a big house though. But the structure was really cool because everything was in close proximity, so it gave a lot of ‘bleed’ in the sound quality because nothing was soundproof. So, literally, you just have doors and walls. The rhythm section was all over the room. Amps were out on the back porch. All of the lead vocals were done in this bedroom. We had bass, drums, guitar, all in the living room, and then there’s like a side room where the recording unit was. And then off that room, just off to the kitchen, we had the background vocals, So, the whole recording experience was just a very cool vibe to experience. I loved the entire sound.”
Brian Owens first attracted worldwide attention as lead singer with the U.S. Air Force band Sidewinder, whose videos drew more than 2.5 million hits on YouTube and led to appearances on Entertainment Tonight, FOX & Friends, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, at the White House, the World Series, and other major outlets. As founder and CEO of LIFE (Leadership, Innovation, Faith, and Excellence) Arts, Owens helps young people develop their leadership potential. As manager of the In Unison program and in tandem with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, he helps connect young people with the city’s artistic institutions.
Brian will soon be back in the studio to record a new project with some of his students called ‘The Score,’ which features soul and hip-hop style music.
As Soul of Cash continues to saturate markets throughout the world, the ultimate question will be—what will the ride or die Johnny Cash fans think about Brian’s Soul of Cash?
“I don’t know. I really hope they like it,” says Owens. “Keeping in mind that the name of the record is Soul of Cash, and these are my interpretations of Johnny Cash’s music. I think regardless of how people feel about it, I feel comfortable knowing that we did not in any way defame the original music. I did everything in the original key. For the most part, we just used different aesthetics and changed up the groove a little. Whether or not you agree with the treatment or whatever, I think that it’s good music.”
For more or the latest news and information, including announcements of upcoming live shows, visit BrianOwensSoul.com