On Songs of Bob Dylan, Joan Osborne unleashes her sizable gifts as a vocalist and interpreter upon The Bard’s celebrated canon. With performances honed by the time Osborne spent polishing them during “Joan Osborne Sings The Songs Of Bob Dylan” — two critically acclaimed two-week residencies she performed at New York City’s Café Carlyle in March 2016 and 2017, the seven-time Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum-selling singer and songwriter, whom The New York Times has called “a fiercely intelligent, no-nonsense singer,” winds her supple, soulful voice around Dylan’s poetic, evocative lyrics, etching gleaming new facets in them along the way.
“I try not to do a straight-up imitation of what someone else has done,” Osborne says. “Like if you're going to sing an Otis Redding song, you're never going to out-Otis him so you shouldn't even try. So I always try to find some unique way into the song, and also to pick songs where the intersection between the song and my voice hits some kind of sweet spot. It was a joy being able to sing these brilliant lyrics. It's like an actor being given a great part. You are just so excited to say these lines because they're so powerful that it lifts you up above yourself.”
The album spans Dylan’s beloved standards from the ’60s and ’70s (“Masters of War,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” “Buckets of Rain,” “Tangled Up In Blue”) to some of Osborne’s favorites from his later albums, including “Dark Eyes” (from 1985’s Empire Burlesque), “Ring Them Bells” (from 1989’s Oh Mercy), “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” (from 1997’s Time Out of Mind), and “High Water” (from 2001’s Love and Theft). “His versions are legendary and I’m not trying to improve on them,” Osborne says. “I'm just trying to sing beautiful songs and let people hear them. It’s about trying to give a different shade of meaning to something that's already great. I happen to think Dylan is a great singer, but I will never, in a million years, sound like him, which almost made it easier.”
“Joan Osborne Sings The Songs Of Bob Dylan” was a smashing success with both fans and critics, who called it “magic,” and praised her as having “a style and wisdom that is all her own, which allows you to hear each of these brilliant songs as if for the first time.” The New York Times noted that “at every point in the evening, you had a sense of Ms. Osborne as an artist who knew exactly what she was doing.” Of course Osborne is no stranger to interpreting songs in a wide variety of genres. In addition to releasing a string of studio albums featuring her frank, expressive original songwriting (the 3x-platinum, 6-time Grammy-nominated Relish, Righteous Love, Pretty Little Stranger, Little Wild One, and Love and Hate), Osborne has also made three albums of soul, R&B, and blues covers (How Sweet It Is, Breakfast In Bed, which also features originals, and the Grammy-nominated Bring It On Home). AllMusic has called her “the most gifted vocalist of her generation and a singer who understands the nuance of phrase, time, and elocution.”
And what does Osborne think Dylan himself would think of her album? “Well, I would hope that he wouldn't get pissed at me,” she says with a laugh. “I don't think so. I mean, why write a song? He just released his third album of standards, so he must understand that a song desires to be sung, no matter who wrote it. It continues to live only if people sing it.”