Joan Osborne: Pretty Little Stranger (Shock)

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Joan Osborne: Pretty Little Stranger
Joan Osborne: Pretty Little Stranger (Shock)

While going through some papers last week I came on the interview I had done with Joan Osborne in smalltown Vermont as she was riding the crest of her unexpected radio hit that went, "what if God is one of us, just a slob like one of us?"

I felt sorry for 32-year old Osborne who knew soul and the blues, had studied Pakistani qawwali music, and had done songwriting sessions with the great Doc Pomus in New York. Here she was with a radio hit that appealed to 14-year old girls and their Moms, and it was already grinding her down. (I have written this story in My Back Pages, see tag)

Finding that article and writing about the encounter reminded me how she had dropped below the radar shortly after that tour, and it prompted me to pull out this album from last year.

In recent years she moved from the pop-soul and bluesy balladry that she could do so well -- although after that huge hit no one seems to have much bothered with her and she slipped off a major label into a kind of netherworld, where I suspect she was much happier.

Latterly however she moved towards alt.country and this album was one of those lost-in-the-shuffle releases which deserved more consideration. With vocal help from Rodney Crowell, Alison Krauss and Vince Gill (which shows the high regard in which she is held), and with Sonny Landreth on guitar, Osborne takes that powerful voice through a collection of mature country ballads and country-rock, half of which she wrote herself.

In some critical quarters this was hailed as her comeback album (she had signed to Vanguard) and while it deserved to be -- for a very different audience than those who loved One of Us -- it didn't prove to be so.

Her new album sees her back doing soul covers like Midnight Train to Georgia alongside more originals in that style. And she's signed to yet another label.

But that takes nothing away from this one as a mature and thoughtful album which walks an intelligent line between pure country and alt.country.

It's never too late to discover music as good as this.

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