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Joan Osborne in Ann Arbor, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2019

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If your latest album is a set of Bob Dylan songs, there aren't many places better to play them then at a folk festival.

So Joan Osborne -- she of "One of Us" and nine Grammy Award nominations -- will be playing her "Songs of Bob Dylan" at the 42nd Ann Arbor Folk Festival, where she notes that "I'm sure we'll get some appreciative and knowledgeable listeners." The album finds the Kentucky-born singer-songwriter taking on a variety of Dylan songs and giving most of them distinctive twists, including a Middle Eastern version of "Highway 61 Revisited," a jazzy take on "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" and a gospel-tinged "Queen the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)."

It's the beginning of a series of artist songbook recordings Osborne, 56, hopes to release, blending those with her original music...

Osborne explains that she's had a long desire to record entire albums of other artists' songs, influenced by Ella Fitzgerald and her Songbook series releases. "I always thought that was very interesting, and it would be great for me to do something similar with writers I feel connected to." An offer to play a two-week residency at the Cafe Carlyle in New York during 2017 gave Osborne an opportunity to try the concept. "I didn't want to just do my normal show there, but I also didn't want to come in and do a straight-up cabaret show. I thought, 'This is the perfect time for me to check out this idea and dedicate the whole residency to one singer-songwriter and their work and see what happens."

Dylan was Osborne's choice "for a number of reasons -- because of the quality of his work, the amount of amazing songs he had, the depth of the material. It was fun and interesting for us, and the audience seemed to be right there with us."

Dylan's distinctive voice, Osborne says, gave her plenty of room to find her own way of singing his songs. "He doesn't have what you would typically call a pretty voice or a beautiful voice; His is more like a character voice, which I think is wonderful because that leaves a lot of room to do something different than what he's already done in his versions of the songs -- or indeed what other people have done in their versions of them. If you pick somebody like Joni Mitchell, her voice is very much part of what the songs are and there's less room for interpretation. (Dylan) leaves a lot more room."

Osborne has "a big, long wish list" of other songbook album subjects, including Nick Cave, Lou Reed and Tom Waits. "There's a lot of cool possibilities. I love Lucinda Williams, too, although it might be a little harder to find a way into her music that she hasn't already covered, 'cause she's such a great singer herself. I don't know if there's as much room with that material, but it'll be fun to find out."

Before the next songbook album, however, Osborne is recording a new set of original material, which she says will be topical and deal with "what has been happening the last couple of years in the country. I don't necessarily think it's every artists responsibility to respond to the political landscape or anything like that, but I've needed my music to allow me a way to express things I'm thinking and feeling and also to keep me connected to just a sense of joy and optimism and being glad to be alive at a time it can be really frustrating and scary -- which I think is similar to Bob Dylan's music, too."

Joan Osborne performs Saturday, Jan. 26, as part of the 42nd Ann Arbor Folk Festival at Hill Auditorium on the U-M campus. $42.50--$200. 734-761-1818 or theark.org.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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