She glides effortlessly among musical genres
Joan Osborne might not be the first singer who comes to mind when the subject is interpreting the songs of Bob Dylan.
But upon further review, the soulful-voiced Louisville native has done just that from the start. She covered “Man in the Long Black Coat” on “Relish,” her 1995 debut album, then sang “Make You Feel My Love” 18 years before Adele made it a hit in 2008.
“There’s so much material you can’t run out of great Bob Dylan songs even if you tried,” says Osborne, who created the project after she was approached by people from New York’s Café Carlyle to do a residency. “I started to feel what an actor must feel like when they do Shakespeare, there is so much to work with there.”
The singer has worked with many kinds of material since coming into the public consciousness with “One of Us,” the tune that asked, “What if God was just a stranger on the bus tryin’ to make his way home?” She toured with the Dead, an incarnation of the Grateful Dead in 2003; fronted Trigger Hippy, a rock band that featured singer-songwriter Jackie Greene and members of the Black Crowes; and maybe most famously sang in the 2002 documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” that featured the studio musicians known as the Funk Brothers.
“It was an amazing experience, I was so honored to be asked to do that,” she says. “Like most Americans, that Motown stuff has kind of been our musical DNA, even if you’re not of the generation that grew up with those songs on the radio.
“Getting on stage and performing with them was like being on a Motown record. It was really, really cool, like being in one of those classic revues that used to go out with six or seven artists and play different towns.”
Osborne’s goosebump-inducing rendition of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” was one of the film’s highlights, and riding the bus with the players was one of hers.
“The guys were really sweet, and of course full of great stories,” she says. “I would try to get them to tell me about Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson and everybody. It was really fun, I kept pinching myself, going, ‘Yeah, this is really happening.’ ”
Osborne’s work on the Dylan and Motown projects has established her classic rock and soul cred, but she’s also hip to current music. Shovels & Rope and Lake Street Dive are among her favorites, but it doesn’t end there.
“There’s tons of great new artists, bands, singers, so many great girl singers,” she says. “I think the Americana scene … and the jam band scene as well has kept that spirit alive. Everybody talks about the record industry falling apart, which is true, but I think live music is as healthy as it has ever been. And that’s exciting.”
And certainly something to relish.
Joan Osborne sings “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” from “Standing in the Shadows of Motown”