I should say from the outset that I’m a sucker for covers of Bob Dylan songs. Artists can and do so much with them and occasionally transcend the originals even though that may sound like heresy. So when Joan Osborne’s Songs Of Bob Dylan appeared on my horizon I practically demanded a copy at gunpoint.
Joan avoids the trap of going straight to the obvious acoustic titles – ‘Masters Of War’ is the oldest song here – and some of her choices are quite surprising. She opens with ‘Tangled Up In Blue’, a country-rock treatment with that crack in her voice giving the song an edge of fatalism. Surprise number one comes with ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’, stripped of that insane marching band and driven by Jack Petruzzelli’s electric guitar. ‘Buckets Of Rain’, very much a guitar piece in its original incarnation, is taken over by Keith Cotton’s piano before acoustic guitar picks it up at the end.
Surprise number two is in the shape of ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. Joan slows it down a fraction and turns it into a blues-rock shouter with an accompaniment that maintains sufficient elements of the original arrangement to make you smile knowingly. ‘Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)’ begins with a late-sixties organ swirling through it, which is nice touch, before taking on a gospel vibe and ‘Tryin’ To Get To Heaven’ comes close to transcending the original, partly because of the clarity of Joan’s vocals, but because she succeeds, for me at least, in painting a different mental picture.
If I must be critical I have to say that Joan misses the opportunity to take at least one song back to its bare bones until we get to ‘Masters Of War’ with its throbbing acoustic and piano and I find ‘Dark Eyes’, for example, to be rather too busy. That said, ‘High Water (For Charley Patton)’ has the kitchen sink thrown at it and works really well and ‘Ring Them Bells’ is a glorious finisher with Cotton’s piano ringing out and Joan’s voice clear and…well…bell-like.
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Artist’s website: www.joanosborne.com