Joan Osborne is back In Scotland and back in Edinburgh at The Queen’s Hall after a gap of too many years with her current tour "Joan Osborne Sings The Songs of Bob Dylan". The tour title is self explanatory, and there is also an album of the same name due out in Spring 2017.
Making an album and taking a tour on the road using the songs of Bob Dylan, even for a gifted songwriter and vocalist like Joan Osborne with multi-platinum selling records and a seven-time Grammy nominee, can bring with it a large element of risk as although Bob Dylan’s words and music have been recorded by many different artists over the years, nothing ever changes the fact that at their core these are so identifiably the work of Bob Dylan.
There are of course several basic problems that any artist doing a tour like this must face – where do you even start with a back catalogue of work like Bob Dylan’s, what periods do you try and cover…for every song you put into the set, you leave at least one that someone in the audience expected to be there. Do you do straight covers of the songs, or do you try and re-interpret them in your own way? Again that brings problems as some people will like the new interpretation while others will consider any deviance from the original to be almost sacrilege. Many Bob Dylan songs are just so well known that they can be used by weak performers to cover up their own limited talents, and even strong and individual performers can find the songs over-shadowing their own identity. Fortunately, Joan Osborne is a unique and strong enough talent not to fall into any of these traps with a mixture of new arrangements on many songs while sticking close to the originals of others, with a vocal range and style that can move from “country” to “sweet soul and funk” to more edgy R&B with effortless ease.
Although we started the set with an early song “Mighty Quinn”, this set avoids the big protest songs of the 1960s, and I am happy with that as I have just heard them so many times, and for any artist, there must be little (if anything) left to personally add to them. Instead, we have instantly recognisable songs like “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”. Nice too to hear in the set classics like “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” and “Highway 61 Revisited”….No “Hurricane” or “Just Like a Woman”, and this just illustrates that fitting everyone’s favourite Bob Dylan song into a set (or album) is an impossible task.
This whole set was really about as stripped back musically as you were going to get with The Joan Osborne Acoustic Trio featuring Kevin Bents (keyboards) and Jim Boggia (guitar). There were no gimmicks here, no hiding behind backing singers, dancers or stage technology, just one singer with an amazing voice and two very talented musicians.
Much of this set gave the songs of Bob Dylan a very soulful/funk sound to it that just suited Joan Osborne’s vocals and the musical style of Kevin Bents and Jim Boggia perfectly. This style of arrangement on some songs might not have been to the style of some Bob Dylan fans who prefer their music as close to the original as possible, but for myself, having a huge love of soul, funk and R&B, it was a classic evening with some classic songs performed in style by a singer with a classic voice, and the standing ovation at the end proved that many people in the audience agreed with me.
For Joan Osborne to leave the show without a few of her own songs would have disappointed, and a well earned encore provided the audience with a different side to Joan’s music, and of course a classic rendition of the song probably most associated with her over the years “If God Was One Of Us”.
More details on the current tour and forthcoming album are available at www.joanosborne.com
Opening the show here for Joan Osborne was “Me For Queen” aka Mary Erskine and to be honest, I just don’t have enough information of this artist to really form an opinion as this was my first introduction to the music and the set was fairly short.
Musically there is an obvious accomplishment on piano that contrasts with an admittedly new to learning to play guitar. Lyrically, there is a gentle story telling style that build up pictures in your mind of the songs a bit like “word paintings”, and songs like “Leaves” and “Slow Train” are good examples of this, and it is easy to see why “Me For Queen” are supporting Joan Osborne tonight – the musical style fits in well. Interesting too to hear Bill Dollars playing Trumpet (over a pre recorded trumpet section) on Leaves as it gave a very distinctive sound and tonal quality to the song.
“Me For Queen” aka Mary Erskine is at an early stage in her musical career and still very much learning and exploring the possibilities of her own voice and song-writing talents and it will be interesting to watch how both develop in the coming years.
For more information go to www.meforqueen.com/
Review by Tom King