Billboard columnist Timothy White says her major-label debut album, “Relish,” is stunning; the New York Times’ Jon Pareles calls it one of the strongest albums from a new artist this year, and Entertainment Weekly gave it an enviable A-, saying she has Bruce Springsteen’s gift “for expressing regular folks’ pain and pleasures.”
Calling from a pay phone at a rest stop in New Jersey, on her way to a gig in Pennsylvania, Joan Osborne says the words are flattering, but they don’t go much beyond that.
“It’s nice to show my family and stuff,” she says, “but it’s really not for me to decide ‘Oh, yes, I’m this, or yes, I’m that.’ I just want to do what I do and try to be in the moment of the music.
“As wonderful as a good review is, the real satisfaction of doing this doesn’t come from seeing your name in the paper. It comes from actually being on stage and playing songs with the band.”
Osborne, who was born and raised in Anchorage, Ky., and now living in New York, was performing her vivid songs of saints and sinners at a club in Philadelphia when Rob Hyman of The Hooters spotted her and recommended her to producer Rick Chertoff. He was starting his own label (Blue Gorilla), distributed by Mercury. After a long meeting, the two discovered a common ground and set forth to create an absorbing piece of work.
Her bluesy style is already being compared to Bonnie Raitt, and her raspy voice embodies the power of Janis Joplin and Courtney Love. But Osborne says her heart has always been in soul music and that comes from being anchored down in Anchorage.
“It was very safe there,” she says. “We could run and play in the woods, and we’d be gone all day and all night and build forts. Musically, we were not like some mountain family that sat around on the front porch and played our instruments.
“I went to the bluegrass festivals a little bit, and country music was in the air, but I wasn’t much a fan of it. I listened a lot to the black station and groups like the Spinners and Gladys Knight & The Pips. It wasn’t until I came to New York and started singing that I delved into blues, R&B and gospel and made a very specific effort to study it and buy a lot of records and find out a lot about the artists I was inspired by.”
BWF (before we forget): Led by the Top 10 single, “One of Us,” Osborne’s “Relish” sold more than 3 million copies.