STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
In 1995 singer songwriter Joan Osborne exploded onto the music scene with her smash hit “One of Us.” For this one time NYU film student turned musician, Osborne, a seven-time Grammy Award nominee and multi-platinum selling artist, the world became her stage.
“It’s been great,” said Osborne, speaking about “One of Us.” “It’s a classic that has taken me to a lot of places that I think I might not have gone otherwise. Being such an interesting pop song, it became a hit not just in America but also in countries all around the world. It was kind of amazing to go on the ride that song took me on. I think the reason that it had that kind of reach and that kind of appeal was because it talked about faith, but it wasn’t telling you what you were supposed to think. It was asking you what your thoughts or feelings were about God and about these larger questions, which is not something most pop songs would do. That’s why it stuck out from rest of the music that was happening. It just had a particular way of getting to people.”
Written by the Hooters’ Eric Bazilian, who had the “Crash Test Dummies” in mind when composing it, Osborne had initial reservations about recording the song.
“Because it was so different than the rest of the record, I had a little bit of trepidation about it,” said Osborne. “I really did like it, and I thought that it was very unique and unusual. It became so popular, and that was the thing everybody connected with me and with my record. The fact is it brought a lot of people to that record that would not have picked it up otherwise. Any reservations I had at the time have obviously been overwritten by what the song turned out to be.”
Osborne’s latest album release, “Love and Hate,” her first in two years, offers a collection of richly compelling, poetic songs exemplifying the talents of an artist improving with age. Standout tracks include the reflective “Where We Start,” the funky “Mongrels,” the emotional “Train,” the poppy “Up All Night” and the passionate “Not Too Well Acquainted.”
“It could very well be my best work,” said Osborne. “That is a hard thing for an artist to decide. I do feel like as a writer I’ve come to a place where I can be more simple and more direct, and that is a conceptually difficult thing to do.”
“At this point I just feel like it is OK to speak directly and just talk about things in a simple language,” added Osborne. “I think I have gotten to the point as a writer where I’m not afraid of doing that and where I feel I have the ability to be able to do that. I’ve grown enough as a writer to do that. So in that way I feel I’ve done my best work.”
Relocating from suburban Louisville, Kentucky to New York City in the late 80’s, the unknown independent artist embarked on a quest to find her creative identity.
“I started out as a blues singer singing in blues bars,” recalls Osborne. “Etta James, Otis Redding, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Tina Turner — people who have that real passionate delivery — those are the people that really galvanized me in the beginning. I thought, ‘Wow! If I could do anything approaching that, that’s something to do.’ I always felt I was reaching for that when I was first singing and performing. There was something about it that was a way for me to get to places within myself that I was not reaching.”
“I had been film making before I accidently fell into the music scene in New York,” added Osborne. “That is a beautiful art form, but it’s a very long and involved and expensive process. In certain ways it’s completely opposite from standing up on a stage and singing. If you’re a singer you are doing it with your own body, and it comes out of your own body, but you have to be in touch with that physical side of yourself, and you have to be free with that. Music, especially that kind of music – blues, soul and gospel music — was a way for me to get out of my head and be this intellectual person and really connect with more of the physical and spiritual aspects of myself.”
Establishing herself as a gifted and edgy vocalist and songwriter who was quite capable of delivering a pop, soul, blues, R&B or country song, Osborne built a modest following.
Initially forming her own independent record label, Womanly Hips, Osborne later penned a deal with Mercury Records and released her first full length album, “Soul Show: Live at Delta 88” (1991). Her follow-up and first major release, “Relish” (1995), which included the smash hit single “One of Us,” achieved massive commercial success. The album reached the Top 10 in the U.S. and beyond, earning Osborne Platinum and Gold honors.
Although subsequent albums, “Righteous Love” (2000), “How Sweet It Is” (2002) and “Pretty Little Stranger”(2006), did not enjoy the same commercial success as Relish, Osborne’s artistry had made an indelible impression.
The sultry voiced artist was invited to perform in concert with the “Dixie Chicks” as well as former members of the “Grateful Dead” and continued writing and recording while on the road.
Her “Breakfast in Bed” (2007) album featured interpretations of the classic songs “Heatwave” and “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” Both were featured in the 2002 documentary film “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” which led to a tour with renowned Motown sidemen “The Funk Brothers.”
Her latest charting album “Bring It On Home,” earned Osborne a Grammy nomination for “Best Blues Album” in 2012.
Speaking from a bustling airport gate at Chicago’s O’Hare, Osborne seems surprisingly grounded considering her many years of commercial success.
“I’m incredibly grateful,” said Osborne. “I know that doing this for my living and my life, as difficult as it sometimes can be, is a real privilege. To be able to make music with people that I respect and love and travel all around and play music for people — it’s a real gift. I try never to take that for granted. I respect the music too much, and I respect the audience, myself and my fellow musicians too much to do that.”
IF YOU GO
Joan Osborne performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27 at the Sellersville Theatre; located at 24 West Temple Ave., Sellersville. Tickets can be purchased by calling (215) 257-5808 or check www.st94.com.