“Versatile” doesn’t quite do justice to Joan Osborne’s uncanny range. One minute she’s guesting with the Chieftains, the next she’s touring with the Dead. Then she utterly steals the show in the Funk Brothers documentary, Standing In The Shadows Of Motown with her stunning rendition of “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted.” Simply put, she’s as good as any female vocalist out there.
The latest addition to her impressive solo catalog – the standout of which, 1995′s Relish introduced the instant classics “St. Teresa,” “Spider Web,” and the Top 10 hit “One Of Us” – finds the Kentucky native in Nashville. The result – produced by Steve Buckingham – isn’t really a country album, but has a spare, acoustic texture.
The title track, penned by Osborne, opens the program with a bit of a Rosanne Cash feel, while Kris Kristofferson’s “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends,” the set’s deepest country track, is reminiscent of early Ronstadt. The original “Who Divided,” on the other hand, has a funky, Tony Joe White feel.
Several usual Nashville subjects are onboard, including drummer Eddie Bayers, bassist Michael Rhodes, acoustic guitarist Bryan Sutton, and steel guitarists Paul Franklin and Dan Dugmore – all able to match the singer in the versatility department. Formidable vocalists Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, and Dan Tyminski lend harmonies, and Osborne herself supplies otherworldly countermelodies on Patty Griffin’s “What You Are.”
Osborne wrote half the CD’s solid repertoire, which also includes tunes by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Harlan Howard, and the Grateful Dead’s Garcia-Hunter collaboration “Brokedown Palace” – given a gospel-tinged cast, reinforced by John Hobbs’ Hammond organ.
The album closes with Rodney Crowell harmonizing on “When The Blue Hour Comes,” which he co-wrote with Will Jennings and Roy Orbison. Like every other voice and instrument, his backing is subtle and, like Osborne’s on-the-mark performance, in the service of the song.
What Ms. Osborne will tackle next is anybody’s guess, but you can bet she’ll nail it.
This article originally appeared in VG’s Jan. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.