Joan Osborne – Songs of Bob Dylan
Womanly Hips Records – 1 September 2017
There can be few artists who, at some time or another, have not sung a Bob Dylan number. Many have recorded one for tribute albums, others have done entire albums dedicated to his work. Joan Osborne now joins the latter. Inspired by the Ella Fitzgerald Songbook albums and born out of her two New York Dylan concerts in 2016 and earlier this year, as well as the recent UK show, she offers up her interpretations of material spanning Dylan’s oeuvre from the early classics to more recent material.
Joined in the studio by guitarist Jack Petruzzelli and keyboardist Keith Cotton who played with her on the NY shows and served as co-producers here, she makes the point that they aren’t carbon copies with her opening reading of Tangled Up In Blue, slowed down to a southern smoked bluesy Memphis groove. It’s immediately reinforced with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 which is transmuted from its ramshackle woozy original to a late night jazz club vibe with a narcotic delivery, soulful backing and bluesy guitar. Meanwhile, she applies the brakes to Highway 61 Revisited, and turns it into another drawled southern blues that focuses in on the biblical imagery.
Of the other vintage Dylan material she’s chosen, the organ backed Quinn The Eskimo is mined for its celebratory gospel core; You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere retains its easy rolling country approach but gets some added fiddle and saloon piano while a sparse; acoustic Masters of War accentuates the nervy guitar backing to underscore the still resonant biting nature of the lyrics. Added to which, there’s a definite Band influence brought to bear on an almost unrecognisable soulful, loose-limbed and brass fattened version of Spanish Harlem Incident.
Ranging across the years, Buckets of Blood from Blood on the Tracks sees Cotton’s keys and fingerpicked acoustic guitar prominent for what is a warm and laid back poppy tumbling melodic arrangement, while Tryin’ To Get To Heaven has a sort of restrained stadium anthem feel in a way that Springsteen might have approached it. Dark Eyes gets a very folksy treatment, albeit with organ creeping in midway, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go imagines what Baez might have done with the song, while, shifting the original’s pacing up a notch, High Water (for Charley Patton) is driven by propulsive rim shot percussion and some searing guitar work, Osborne channeling Dylan’s vocal readings.
Which just leaves, Ring Them Bells, taken from Oh Mercy, which features just her voice and Cotton’s piano, honing in on the song’s spiritual heart to forge an urban hymn about loss and moving forwards that resonates with today’s dark times, a closing highlight on an album of inspired re-imaginings that unequivocally establishes her as the 21st century’s answer to Judy Collins and The Byrds as the seminal Dylan interpreters. Given the shows featured a considerable number of other songs, hopefully, a Vol II might be in store.
Photo Credit: Jeff Fasano