JPR Live Session: Joan Osborne

Jul 14, 2017

Joan Osborne famously got her start performing her own songs in New York City’s downtown rock clubs, around the time that she began to rediscover Bob Dylan’s work with Oh Mercy. “When you’re playing in the nightclub scene in Greenwich Village, his trail is everywhere, and not just because he played in the same places, but because people still perform his music every night. He's part of the American musical education you get, whether you’re learning about him in some music conservatory or by playing in bars five nights a week."

"During those years I started to become more familiar with his music. And at the point when I was starting to arrange my own stuff and make my own recordings, hearing records like ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ or ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ I thought, ‘Wow, that just has such an immediacy and freshness. How did he do that?’ It’s interesting to dig into it from that aspect, when music is your livelihood.

Osborne is no stranger to interpreting songs in a wide variety of genres. In addition to releasing a string of studio albums featuring her frank, expressive original songwriting (the 3x-platinum, 6-time Grammy-nominated Relish, Righteous Love, Pretty Little Stranger, Little Wild One, and Love and Hate), Osborne has also made three albums of soul, R&B, and blues covers (How Sweet It Is, Breakfast In Bed, which also features originals, and the Grammy-nominated Bring It On Home). AllMusic has called her “the most gifted vocalist of her generation and a singer who understands the nuance of phrase, time, and elocution.

I try not to do a straight-up imitation of what someone else has done,” Osborne says. “Like if you're going to sing an Otis Redding song, you're never going to out-Otis him so you shouldn't even try. So I always try to find some unique way into the song, and also to pick songs where the intersection between the song and my voice hits some kind of sweet spot. It was a joy being able to sing these brilliant lyrics. It's like an actor being given a great part. You are just so excited to say these lines because they're so powerful that it lifts you up above yourself.