CD Review: Joan Osbourne ‘ Songs of Bob Dylan’

joan osbourne

Multi-platinum singer and songwriter, Joan Osborne has released her ninth studio album, Songs of Bob Dylan today. On Songs of Bob Dylan’ Joan Osborne unleashes her sizable gifts as a vocalist and interpreter upon Dylan’s celebrated canon with performances honed by Osborne’s time spent performing “Joan Osborne Sings The Songs Of Bob Dylan,” two critically acclaimed two-week residencies at New York City’s Café Carlyle in March 2016 and 2017.
Ever been to a party and someone tries to introduce you to someone you already know? But to make things stranger the person making the introduction describes the person you’ve known all your life as a completely different person.

Love is love and sometimes it is not to be understood. You either love Bob or you don’t and clearly Joan does. One could speculate what it is that this tribute brings to us via the tone of Joan that Bob hasn’t already told us. The words for one are clearly decipherable, the production is neat but one cannot help that even to look at the song titles you probably already know what’s in store because you already have a picture painted so the big question is: “What can this remake do to enrich our lives?”

It would be one thing to revive a more obscure artist but even the Spotify  generation know who Bob Dylan is so why is Joan Osbourne trying to give you the paleo/low-cal/low fat version of your Grandma’s favourite recipe?

Joan Osbourne is a fighter  and in her own right one hell of a songwriter who has been screwed by the big record companies in the 90s and lived to write the songs but if there is a message in here it is missed in this album unfortunately. As much as she deserves a win this is not her time. Her voice has developed a rich timber over the years but these aren’t her songs or her moments to relay, there is no justice in the tribute unfortunately. Maybe she should have stayed a fan like the rest of us. Moving through the album there is not much here to hold onto even though every attempt is made, the songs of Dylan are something that should stay just that – songs sung by Dylan.

Tangled up in Blue is a pretty straight forward track and if it wasn’t a Bob track would we be left wondering if  there were more to say? The thing is its not really a song which lends credibility to a woman of Osbourne’s calibre to reminisce about such a Bob story but to pardon the obvious pun at least we can hear what Joan is singin. Moving onto Rainy Day woman the song sets  a little more of a smoky mood and might have proved a better opening track. Yet again the annunciation is a little too correct but there is a little more variation on the classic here – nothing is sloppy, its like the songs are auto-quantised.

Then comes Buckets of Rain– clean and clear, all clinical and digital, there’s no dirt or patina in these grooves. Maybe Osbourne is trying to teach us how Bob sat down and tapped a vein for each and every song he’s gifted us? I’m trying to understand why this is done the way it is. It comes across as a play school rhyme for kids.

Highway 61 revisited- A heavier version than the original: Dixie/ heavy, but without Bob’s indifferent vocals on his own observations, a theme is developing here where- if you remove Bob – you get good stories but the feels are pretty boxy. This song had dust on it’s boots when Bob mumbled it but now the boots are cleaned and shiny.

Then we have the unfortunate version of Spanish Harlem. This is the whitest version of a song ever !!! A backpacker whose taken a job touting Amnesty contributions on the street to lunchtime city workers has more compassion for what they do!!!

Moving onto Dark Eyes which sounds like someone invented an app to translate Bob Dylan songs and now that they have our ears hurt and we want them to go back to the way they were. Its like having a sausage roll but all you really wanted was the taste of the sauce.

Progressing onto Masters of War in a word – Nope. This doesn’t build, goes nowhere, and for such an angry song it revs of mild bickering rather than the rage it’s supposed to purvey (Protest Song “lite”…) For God sake, Bob spoke on behalf of Jesus in this song and Joan sells it like it’s a deal written on the back of a shopper-docket!! She’s turned it into an annoyed housewife anthem. Fuck!!! Really?

The final track of the album Ring them bells is probably the pick- it doesn’t sound like a song hidden in the “Bob relocation program”. It’s got depth and passion FINALLY!!! Great gospel turns and Osbourne’s voice creaks like an oak in the wind around the grand piano. This is where the album should have been at!!

For those lucky enough to see Joan at this years’ Byron Bay Blues festival this presentation was more of a “This is a biopic/ theatre/life of Bob” thing. But Bob is not dead thankfully and he is not to be understood. This is a deconstruction not an endorsement. Joan is lost and its not like she’s Jimmy Barnes who can fart out a covers album and the hillbillies come running to by it.

A covers album or ‘ tribute’ album is always going to be risky no matter what. Most art and song writing comes from a dark writing process. When Bob wrote these songs, the climate in America was charged with oppression, war, racism and the Vietnam War was happening-  he gave voice to this. To take something that was charged with passion and spit polish it with a house wife finish might not have been the best idea.

Words by John Anon

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