Joan Osborne

REVIEW: Joan Osborne “Radio Waves”


Joan Osborne — “Radio Waves”

Like most of us, Joan Osborne, upon reaching maximum homebound pandemic boredom, spent some time cleaning out closets over the past couple of years. I’ll wager that most of us didn’t find high-quality recordings of ourselves singing at radio stations worldwide. Lucky for our ears, the owner of one of the best voices in rock ‘n’ roll (and founder of my favorite-named label, Womanly Hips Records) turned the very best of these nearly forgotten CDs (given to her by station engineers) into a new album, Radio Waves, which serves as reminder of both her powerful voice and her versatility.

Osborne is best known for her probing 1995 hit “One of Us,” but it was another song from that album (Relish) that’s always been my favorite. “St. Teresa” led off that record, and it also appears first on Radio Waves. Recorded in 1995 at Southern California’s KCRW, the pared-down take allows Jack Petruzzell’s mandolin work to shine through while maintaining the urgency of the original recording. Of course, “One of Us” does show up, but this take from a 2001 Dutch Radio recording of the Eric Bazillan-penned track is as simple as Osborne’s voice and acoustic work from Andrew Carillo can make it. And, even though it’s only six years after the initial release of the song, Osborne’s voice carries an additional, beautiful world-weariness that lends the track an extra dose of maturity.

The third original on Radio Waves is the title track from 2008’s Little Wild One. Written with Bazilian and Rob Hyman (both from Philly band The Hooters), this recording from Colorado’s legendary KBCO is a grittier take on the original, a tune about unquestioned, if fleeting, love – “I’ve thrown away all my defenses/No way of knowing what the end is.” The rest of the album is a collection of covers, including the first single, a soulful take on Toshi Reagon’s “Real Love,” recorded as a demo in 2006, and the aptly chosen “Shake Your Hips,” a James Moore tune famously recorded by the Rolling Stones. Here, Osborne is driven by a growling guitar line from Carillo and furious organ riffs from Keith Cotton before the singer brings it all crashing home, to the delight of the small but boisterous crowd gathered at New York’s WXPK. Make no mistake – these may be radio appearances, but they’re nearly all full-band adventures, which is a bonus from a singer who can hold an audience all on her own. That voice is best used while covering Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” Joined only by Carillo’s acoustic guitar and light percussion, Osborne’s singular instrument perfectly underplays the song. Singers as diverse as Billy Joel and Adele have taken stabs at this one, but Osborne’s rendition from a small German public radio station in 2002 nails the simple beauty in The Bard’s uncomplicated tale of devotion. 

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “St. Teresa” – Just because I’ve never had the privilege of seeing Osborne in concert, and this is my favorite tune of hers.

Radio Waves was produced by Joan Osborne, with additional engineering by Gary Schreiner and Rob Killenberger. Musicians on the album include Eric DellaPenna (guitar), Rainy Orteca (bass), Jack Petruzzelli (mandolin, guitar, backing vocals), Dean Sharenow (drums), Andrew Carillo (guitar), Billy Ward (drums), Tracy Wormworth (bass, backing vocals), Gary Schreiner (keyboards, loop), Aaron Comess (drums), Keith Cotton (keyboards), Richard Hammond (bass) and Ivan Neville (keyboards).

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2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Joan Osborne “Radio Waves”

  1. I’ve caught her a couple of times: with my knees bumping the stage at Oakland’s Yoshi’s. I got all overwhelmed as she sang “Tangled Up in Blue” and at the end she gave a “Whew. That went someplace special…”

    And a few years later at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass where she finished her set staring into the hot afternoon sun and truncated “One of Us” as she nearly collapsed and had to leave the stage. She was fully on until that moment, no matter how terrible she was feeling.

    I’ll always catch her shows. Wonderful stuff.

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