Joan Osborne "The Songs of Bob Dylan"

Any song interpreter worth her weight finds that at some point she must cover a Bob Dylan song. The genius of his lyrics and the craftiness of his melodies lure the best singers to his canon, the depth and breadth of which offers endless variables. Two singers can sing the same song and find alternative interpretations.  Joan Osborne is a singer of great dexterity and nuance. Her baker’s dozen worth of Dylan covers features well-loved ballads and lesser known nuggets dug from the recesses of his catalog. She used a residency at New York’s Café Carlyle to work on her repertoire of Dylan material, determining not only which songs to use but how to arrange them.  

Osborne begins the album on a predictable note, both the choice of song and the arrangement. “Tangled Up in Blue” is a popular choice for Dylan aficionados. Osborne keeps the pronouns and delivers a straight ahead rendition. Switching gears she lays down a smoky soulful take on “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35.” The album switches on and off like this, with a traditional takes on “Buckets of Rain” followed by an intense slow-burning rock version of “Highway 61 Revisited.”

Several of Osborne’s choices are surprising, digging deep for “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn).” The song recorded in 1968 by Manfred Mann and recorded by Dylan during the basement tape sessions of 1967. Some of the songs go back to Dylan’s earliest days (“Spanish Harlem Incident,” “Masters of War”). Others are harvested from his more recent albums including “High Water (For Charley Patton)” from 2001’s Love & Theft, and “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” from 1997’s Time Out of Mind.

Osborne ends the album with a stripped down, hymn-like version of “Ring Them Bells” from 1989’s Oh Mercy. Accompanied only by piano and synth-strings Osborne’s voice is spot lit. It’s a marvelous instrument, powerful, nuanced, full of rich texture.       

Joan Osborne will sing The Songs of Bob Dylan at the Byham Theater on September 23rd.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)

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