With my father a musician, I had the luxury of growing up hearing a lot of music. Aside from The Beatles, Dad’s favorites were Johnny Cash and anything Motown. While I still listen to stuff from David Ruffin, Smokey Robinson, or Marvin Gaye just about every day, Cash admittedly isn’t part of my daily playlist. Don’t get me wrong, I adore most of his music, but the correlation between Cash and the memories of my Dad are far too interwoven to listen to without some sort of emotional distress. Needless to say, I was a little apprehensive when I was presented with a vinyl copy of Soul Of Cash by Brian Owens.
A black, midwest-born soul artist covering a white, country legend isn’t exactly business as usual in the world of R&B.
The entire idea would be absurd if you didn’t take a minute to think about the inner workings of both Soul and Country. On the surface, it’s easy to generalize Country as honky tonks or depressing songs about pick-ups and wives leaving. But taking a closer look at the themes of Blues and it’s a genre based on crying about loss or having a good time with someone. Both genres are deeply rooted in church music anyway so when you strip away the stereotypes, the two genres aren’t that much different.
Johnny Cash was famous for going against the generic image of Country. Most of his songs were either about the sentimental things in life or the dark side of storytelling other Country artists were too afraid to tackle. The themes in his music were relatable by all walks of life or at least entertaining when they offered a challenge. It’s what Cash was good at and earned him a spot among the greatest songwriters in history.
For Brian Owens, a preacher’s son from Missouri, covering Johnny Cash isn’t a gimmick, it was inevitable.
Ever since seeing Cash on an episode of Columbo at the age of 11, Owens has been captivated by Cash. Not only his music but who he was as an artist and a human being. As an accomplished songwriter and performer on the Soul circuit, Owens understands how nuance can have a dramatic effect on even the simplest of compositions. In a similar way Cash could make a song about life in prison seem entertaining, Owens makes it a dance floor romp without changing a single lyric.
Perception plays a major role in Soul Of Cash. The greatest example is “The Man In Black”. Written in 1971 as a protest song, the lyrics talk about hoping for a better tomorrow despite living in a world in chaos. Every single world rings true today as it did then. But coming from the voice of a black man, it adds a layer of somber reality making it even more important than Cash himself could ever imagine.
Soul Of Cash isn’t a tribute to Johnny Cash but the place where all of his music came from; the heart.
Brian Owens sings each and every song with conviction as if he wrote these songs himself. Each track means something to him or it wouldn’t be this riveting. Listening to Johnny Cash reminds me of my Dad, not only because he was one of his favorite artists but in many ways, he was a lot like him. It’s that sense of honesty that puts Soul Of Cash on the next level. Hearing Owens sing each track from the pit of his very soul feels like hearing someone paying tribute to the things I love about the memory of my Dad.
The closing track “Country In My Soul” is the only Brian Owens original and clears the air on why he chose to record a collection of Cash covers. However, it also says a lot about how we can spiritually connect with an artist despite genre or race. With that said, it might feel my thoughts on this album are based on personal bias and that may be true. But when a song comes from an honest place and is that good, it defies genre, race, and personal bias. It’s universal. Brian Owens’ Soul Of Cash is the epitome of good music.
Soul Of Cash is available on vinyl exclusively through Soul Step Records
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.