Joan Osborne: Critically Acclaimed Career, But Still ‘One of Us’
“A commanding, passionate performer.” “A frank, emotionally evocative songwriter.” “Insightful and complex songs.”
The critical plaudits for Joan Osborne’s career and for her new album could fill pages by themselves. But most of her audience knows her from the haunting, childlike song “One of Us” that she released in 1995, when it quickly climbed the charts to Number One.:
What if God were one of us / Just a stranger on a bus / Just a slob like one of us / Trying to make his way home…
And she’ll be appearing at 2017’s Beartrap, touring with her newest album “Love and Hate.”
“This one feels a little different,” she tells an interviewer. “I feel like each song on the album talks about a different aspect of love. Love isn’t just one thing. It encompasses faith, passion, power, struggles, humor, anguish, spirituality, lust, anger, everything on that spectrum.”
“When the endorphin rush of falling in love stops,” she says, “that’s where the difficult work comes in. So I tried to come up with songs that were about different aspects of this continuum.”
In a numeral coincidence, she’s been nominated for seven Grammies–and seven is how many years she’s been working on “Love and Hate.” It was a period during which she worked on other projects and released two albums.
The finished product is nothing like it started out, she says. She envisioned “a lush, pastoral album in the style of Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks.’ But as I continued to write songs, I found myself drawn towards more personal matter.”
With a different twist of fate, you might be watching a new Joan Osborne movie instead of hearing her onstage. A Kentucky native, she arrived in New York City in the late 1980s to attend film school. But she was inescapably drawn to New York’s vibrant live music scene. Along the way she met up-and-coming unknowns such as Jeff Buckley, Chris Whitley, The Spin Doctors, Blues Travelers, and others.
In 1992 she took on the ambitious project of releasing both a live performance–“Soul Show: Live at Delta 88″–and the EP “Blue Million Miles.” Three years later came the multi-platinum album “Relish,” containing the chart-topping single “One of Us.”
But it was a critically acclaimed show at the 1997 Lilith Fair tour that cemented her national reputation. In the years since, in addition to her own projects, she’s been a sought-after collaborator for a diverse collection of songwriters and performers, and has appeared onstage with Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Emmylou Harris, Patti Smith, and many others, including the surviving members of the Grateful Dead for their 2003 revival tour.
Reflecting on her days in the New York City club scene, she says, “The experience of coming up in clubs made me understand that this is about communicating with other human beings, and that music has this great power to communicate and to uplift people. That’s the thing that keeps me feeling good about giving my life to this. As difficult as any of the other stuff gets, I can still look out in the audience and have the sense that whatever I’m doing in that moment is reaching people and has meaning for them.
“I look at the songs on ‘Love and Hate’ and realize that it’s better than what I could have done 15 or 20 years ago. I have an audience that I’ve built on, over time, and I feel like they’re with me. And because of that I don’t feel any pressure to fit myself into anyone else’s idea of what I should be doing.
“So I feel like I can write my own rules at this point. That can be scary, but it’s also liberating. And it’s an exciting place to be.”