This might raise some eyebrows since there are those that might not think of Joan Osborne as an americana artist but, as the intro to this clip says, she cuts such a wide swathe through American music these days and appearances at the Grand Ole Opry, and covering the likes of Dylan and Dolly Parton and, of course, previously appearing in the pages of Americana UK, must mean she’s more than earned her place in the ranks of americana.
I will happily put my hand up as a long-time fan; I think she has one of the finest voices out there and consistently produces some great music, though little of it finds a wide audience outside of the U.S. these days. This clip is, obviously, from the Transatlantic Sessions and comes from the Third Series, recorded back in 2007. The song, ‘St Teresa’, originally appeared on Joan’s debut album, ‘Relish’, back in 1995 and Osborne wrote this with Eric Bazilian, Rob Hyman, and Rick Chertoff, the team behind Cindy Lauper’s first album (and Bazilian wrote Osborne’s breakthrough hit ‘One of Us’). Apparently, the story, about a woman, down on her luck and turning to prostitution but still taking responsibility for her life and her child, came from Osborne, who wrote the majority of the lyrics. It started life as a blues song but moved on from there to find a more complex identity. Here, working with the Transatlantic Sessions house band, we get a real feel for what a good song this is. The interplay between Donal Lunny’s bouzouki playing and Jerry Douglas’ lap steel is mesmerising and Joan Osborne’s voice rises and falls with the music but is always a solid presence.
To my thinking, Joan Osborne is a great country-soul singer. Her voice has such resonance and she really gets inside a song. In addition to writing good songs herself, she’s as good an interpreter of other writers’ works as it gets, and her contributions to the film “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” are outstanding. She has been a frequent collaborator with Phil Lesh, fronted the band Trigger Hippy and has sung with Mavis Staples. Often dismissed as a one-hit wonder in commercial terms, Joan Osborne went on to create the musical career that she wanted and, if you only ever think of her in terms of that single, ‘One of Us’, I would urge you to delve deeper into Ms Osborne’s catalogue of excellent albums and discover why Jerry Douglas was so keen to secure her for the third series of Transatlantic Sessions. Joan Osborne is, quite simply, a terrific singer.