Joan Osborne made the most of her moment, breaking through with the song “One Of Us” in 1995, leading the wave of singer-songwriters offering a calmer, more thoughtful alternative to grunge. Building on her label debut Tasteshe earned five Grammy nominations and headlining status on the 1997 Lilith Fair Tour. And maybe, just maybe, with the “moral majority” poking her shows on this song on God and the focus on message songs and female empowerment in tune with the times and her career recording many different genres, not enough people appreciated Osborne’s vocals enough on her own terms.
Some critics have understood this. Thom Jurek covers much of Osborne’s discography at Allmusic.com, encouraging her to choose the right material and calling her out when it’s less than ideal, but ultimately judging her. “the most gifted singer of her generation and a singer who understands the nuance of phrase, time and delivery.” I’m not sure it’s ever been clearer than on its new version radio wavesa collection of promotional performances from radio studios plus some demos spanning the years 1995 to 2012. As I note in our interview, his voice, without the elaborate mixing and compression of album recordings, is clearly front and center, and the performances are raw and alive.
“You’re in a different context,” Osborne says. “I think radio stations – it’s a more voice-oriented place. Engineers are really used to dealing with these very intimate human voices, which is the quality you get from these late-night DJs, kind of whispering to you in the dark, you know?”
The pandemic gave Osborne time to “take stock” as she spent time with her daughter and gave her a deep cleaning of the house, rummaging through boxes that had been in the dark for years. “I found everything from little tape recordings of rehearsals to demos of stuff I’d never released, to those live radio recordings. So it was kind of like, it’s your life, Joan Osborne in audio form,” she says here. “And I think being the age I am now (she’ll be 60 this year), I can appreciate it in a different way, like looking back fondly (on) everything, as opposed to when where you are at the time of doing it, you think about other things. And it gave me a kind of sense of pride, I think, and I feel good about how I spent my life.
Also in our chat, we cover how Christian culture warriors sued her for “One Of Us,” her two-album production work for The Holmes Brothers, the struggle she had after the very hot Taste debuted and sang in place of Jerry Garcia when the Grateful Dead returned as The Dead in the early 2000s. This is episode 200 of The String, and I couldn’t have drawn a better guest or better sound.