Siobhan Owen released her first album, Purely Celtic, in 2008 at the age of fourteen. As the title suggests, Owen had a keen interest in Celtic music and it has run through all of her albums since then. Storybook Journey is her fourth album; conceived, recorded and released at the turn of adulthood. Now eighteen, Owen has not abandoned her passion for Celtic music, but she has broadened her repertoire by integrating her first love with classical crossover, marrying the two genres more cohesively and intimately than any artist has ever done before.
Based on the concept of taking the listener on a narrative journey, each song tells a tale of the traditional kind encompassing "love, war, loss, prayers and dreams". The track list consists of traditional songs of Celtic origin (many unusual) but also holds some surprises in a Japanese version of 'Walking in the Air' (Sora Wo Aruku) and a cover of Secret Garden's 'Prayer'. Highlights include the highly emotive 'Nearer My God To Thee' (recorded in respect of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic), the uplifting 'Caledonia' and the quirky 'Fields of St Etienne'. Highlights aside, all the songs have something to offer, mainly due to the pure and ever-growing versatility of Owen's vocals.
The album's opener, 'Cariad', wastes no time in introducing Owen's clarity and precision. She has always given a Celtic flavour in her vocal delivery, but this time round, she has mixed it with a more classical technique, calling Westenra to mind. Combining the two, she has created her own vocal style, further setting her apart from her contemporaries and freshening up her material.
As well as her vocals, Owen has also taken a slight departure from the arrangements of her previous albums. Throughout her career Owen has centred her performances, and recordings, on her harp. As if to give another example that Owen is comfortable with her identity, growing and evolving, but not changing or catering to anyone, the harp is still an important part of Storybook Journey; but it's not the only instrument carrying the album. Quentin Eyers offers up his talents, providing the album with a slick but subtle (listen out for the bird song in 'Dream a Dream') set of arrangements and instrumentation. There are more instruments than ever but they do not overpower; in fact, they simply enhance and highlight the true partnership of Owen's voice and her harp.
This disc is a pitch perfect product; its image, song selection, song order, vocal performance, arrangements, production, title and art work all complement one another to create a flawless musical narration. Storybook Journey delivers what its title promises, showcasing Owen's maturity and declaring her a truly creative artist. If you enjoy concept albums like Sarah Brightman's La Luna or Emma Shapplin's Etterna, you'll struggle not to appreciate Owen's latest effort.