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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

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In Music

From Beautiful Pollution to Avenue of Beauty: Meaghan Owens' new music


Lately, Meaghan Owens' life could be likened to the story of the mythological Greek goddess Persephone. Also known as the "Queen of the Underworld," Persephone bides her time between the earth, where she conjures lush vegetation, and the dark place beneath the grass where tulip bulbs sleep until springtime.

Owens, a Milwaukee-based alt-folk musician, appears to exist in two places as well, living at the crux of poetry and reality. Her new record, called "No Whiskey In A Good Girl's River," details, among other things, her recognition of beauty in an often fallen world. "There's a source that moves beneath the sheen of things/it's the force that moves the weight of angels wings," she says in "Love Is Burning," one of 12 songs that create a gutsy, heartfelt record adorned with intense imagery, apple pie pining and solid guitar playing.

"When I'm good, I'm good and when I'm bad, I'm better," she sings in the opening track. Prior to her debut solo effort, Owens was part of a lovely folk duo called Beautiful Pollution. On her new record, Owens reintroduces herself as a woman who may not have been bad, but undeniably managed to get even better, with a stronger voice and more confident strumming.

Above all, the poetic Owens is a gifted lyricist who pens a new patriotism steeped in the thinking person's simultaneous love and disappointment of America. Hence, the record's sentiment echoes the efforts of alt-country dynamo Victoria Williams.

"I am mainly concerned with the writing and telling of the story within a song and I think that is why I have been so influenced by country and old folk music," says Owens. "The lyrical storytelling is the most important aspect of my work."

If Marie Osmond is a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll, Owens is also that -- and more. Her brother, Connor Owens, describes her style as similar to those of Dolly Parton and Patti Smith, and friend and musician Heidi Spencer calls Owens, when inviting her on stage at gigs, her "honky tonk" friend.

"I think she just likes to say that word but there must be a grain of truth to what she says," says Owens.

Spencer and Owens spent part of the autumn tooling and touring along historic Highway 31 between Louisville, Ky. and Nashville, Tenn. The trip -- referred to as "The Avenue of Beauty Tour" -- was inspired by Spencer's random purchase of an antique map at an estate sale. In classic "Beautiful Pollution" spirit, Owens says they found the highway both appealing and ugly, and they plan to eventually release a documentary of the experience.

Owens recorded "No Whiskey In A Good Girl's River" at Sound-Sound studio, 216 N. Water St., a place she refers to as "one of Milwaukee's best-kept secrets."

"Bob Friedman has created such a comfortable and professional environment for DIY artists to utilize," says Owens. "Just being there inspired me ... you have to find a place where you can feel free to delve into the most risky parts of exposing yourself on tape."

Milwaukeeans will enjoy the numerous Wisconsin references on the album, including a tune called "Farewell Avenue," which she pronounces "Fair-well." Listeners might wonder if it was an accidental or intentional mispronunciation, but the new pronunciation better fits Owens' signature language that combines the mundane with the magical.

Owens plans to spend time in Nashville this winter, but she will return to Milwaukee in the spring.

Albeit a "solo effort," "No Whiskey In A Good Girl's River" features the talents of guitarist Joshua Backes, pianist Tony Scholl, drummer James David and bassist Jesse Schomisch, formerly of The Danglers. Plus, the Violent Femmes' Victor Delorenzo sings and plays timpani on the final track.

"It was cool to get Victor's contribution after we had a poignant conversation about the mythic figure of Orpheus," says Owens.


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