Joan Osborne Sings the Songs of Bob Dylan at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh tonight was one of those shows that, if you are a Bob Dylan fan, you were either going to love or hate from the beginning. For many Bob Dylan fans, his music and words are almost like sacred texts and no deviation from the original is allowable, and if you fall into that category then Joan Osborne’s re-imagining/new interpretation of some of these classics may be almost heretic to you. If like me you believe that the true power of Bob Dylan’s work is in his words and the ability of those words to be adapted by many people in so many different ways and still somehow retain their power and beauty, then you will probably like me love the combination of these magical words and a singer like Joan Osborne who has the vocal range and depth to successfully do something “new” with these classic songs.
This was a return visit for me to this show as I reviewed it last April here at the Queen’s Hall before the album “Joan Osborne/Songs of Bob Dylan” was released, and it was nice to hear in this post album release show Joan performing “live only performance” versions of some songs that there simply were not room for on the album.
Joan Osborne is a singer-songwriter of not inconsiderable talent herself, and listening to her pleasure at re-visiting and discovering new layers to Bob Dylan’s music and words as this project evolved was interesting in itself. Also, Joan has one of the great soul/blues/jazz voices of her generation, and that vocal power was immediately evident on a very soulful/blues opening set re-working of “Mighty Quinn”.
The album, and the set list, may only showcase a fraction of the lifetime’s output of Bob Dylan, but there is a careful enough balance here to show the immense range of songs in this musical treasure chest as we move from powerful political statements to delicate love songs. It is always the measure of a great song that it can be given so many different “voices”, and “Buckets of Rain”, “Tangled Up In Blue”, “Highway 61 Revisited”, and “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” are a few songs in this set that illustrate just how special these songs are. Probably for me though, the most poignant song of all was “Masters of War”. Written over 50 years ago, these words still have all of their power intact, and perhaps sadly in today’s world are even more relevant than when originally written.
As with last year’s show, reactions of some people that I was talking to after the show were mixed, but overall very supportive and pleased with this project. A few disappointed people though that the song that many people most associate with Joan Osborne herself - “If God Was One Of Us” - was not in the set list tonight.
This show, as with last year’s, I liked a lot. I think I have heard so many covers of so many of Bob Dylan’s classic songs performed “straight” over the years that I just want to hear someone with the vision to do something new and different with them, and Joan Osborne has that vision and the talent to make it all work.
On stage with Joan for this tour on keyboards and piano, Keith Cotton adding his own musical identity to these songs. Keith Cotton is also co-producer of the album, and very much an integral part of this project.
More information on this project, the album and Joan Osborne is available at
Supporting Joan Osborne tonight, and opening the show, the combined talents of Lake Montgomery of Paris, Texas and Cera Impala of Flagstaff, Arizona performing collectively as “Delightful Squalor”. With a very “Americana Roots” sound to their music through the combination of guitar and banjo plus some interesting songs in this short set, including a re-working of “My Favourite Things”, it will be interesting to see where this musical project develops in the coming years. This set was really too short to make any first performance opinions of, and for some reason our duo did seem a little nervous on stage tonight.
There was at times a feeling of things just not fitting together here perfectly, as Cera and Lake have two very different styles musically and lyrically, but hopefully time will blend the two into something unique to the duo. For different reasons, I want to find more out about each artist, and there were only a few glimpses here of just what the very unique voice of Lake Montgomery is capable of.
As the duo of “Delightful Squalor” have yet to release any recorded material, there was a bit of an identity crisis at the merchandise table, proving that marketing and brand identity is, like it or not, an important part of the music business for any performing artists.
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Review by Tom King