The road less traveled has always held a certain appeal for Joan Osborne. Over the years, the adventurous singer-songwriter has taken flight -- for the mountains of India and the depths of the Delta in her quest for sounds that stir the soul. After a long period of mining the rich territory where country and soul -- the two most visceral American musical forms -- meet, she’s hit yet another vein of gold with the songs that make up her evocatively earthy Vanguard debut, Pretty Little Stranger.
“I think of this as my version of a country record,” explains Osborne, who admits that, although born and raised in Kentucky, she never really explored the genre until she relocated to New York in the early ‘80s.”I’m thinking about this album almost as if a film director decided to make a genre films -- a western, then a romantic comedy, then a detective film. It’s a little like taking these genres that have certain constraints built in, then putting your own sensibility into it.”
Osborne’s sensibility -- a restlessness of spirit and an unfettered purity of emotion -- is evident in every nook and cranny of Pretty Little Stranger, her first album of original material in six years. Yes, she’s abetted by an impressive list of collaborators and fellow travelers, both in terms of performing (Vince Gill, for instance, provides poignant vocal counterpoint on the hushed “Time Won’t Tell”) and writing (like Patty Griffin, the source of the questing “What You Are”). But in the end, Osborne’s personality and voice are the fuel that helps the album motor so effortlessly down the blue highway she’s decided to set out on.
“In making this album, I learned how difficult it is to be simple,” says the singer, who wrote much of Pretty Little Stranger in the basement of the Brooklyn home she shares with her infant daughter before heading to Nashville to record with Grammy-winning producer Steve Buckingham (Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Loretta Lynn). “One of the things that I wanted to focus on when I was writing songs for this record, and choosing material to cover, was that a lot of country music is lyrically very direct and very simple. A lot of what I’ve written in the past has been more flowery, more abstract. I got a new appreciation for how hard it is to be simple and not be trite.”
There’s nothing remotely trite about the songs Osborne wrote for the disc -- a passel of tunes that run the gamut from lost to lusty, from beckoning to high lonesome. Whether she’s pondering the ins and outs of a potential sexual conquest (as on the title track, a slow-burning country-soul offering that recalls the Nashville forays of singers like Candi Staton or Ray Charles) or sifting through the rubble of a break-up (as she does on the organ-fueled “Who Divided”), her words and her delivery pack a strong punch.
The latter tune, Pretty Little Stranger’s first single, is particularly affecting, what with its litany of references to the callousness the clock on the wall displays to those waiting for that heartache to subside. “Just to get through the moments of the days after a breakup can be really hard because it seems like the days drag on forever,” she explains. I wanted to convey that sense of time being this … Read More