Joan Osborne’s new album “Radio Waves” is a collection of recordings the singer discovered while cleaning out her cupboards during the early pandemic lockdowns. These 13 songs are favorites from Osborne and his band’s live radio station performances between 1995 and 2012. The mixes are stellar and showcase Osborne’s powerful vocals and energetic band.
“Radio Waves” is set for release February 22 and features a range of original versions and covers of blues and soul tracks like Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everybody is a Star” performed at KROQ in 2002, “Love’s in Need” by Stevie Wonder of Love Today” (Radio Bremen, Germany, 2002) and Osborne’s 1995 hit song “One of Us” (Dutch Radio, 2001) which earned three Grammy nominations. Osborne’s last studio album was the politically charged Trouble and Strife in 2020.
Joan Osborne and her band will rock the Rio Theater at 8 p.m. on January 21. Proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test within 72 hours and a valid photo ID will be required for entry along with a mouth/nose covering. Joan Osborne recently spoke to The Sentinel from her home in Brooklyn, New York.
souls and minds
Q: “Hope you’re doing as well as you can during this pandemic.”
A: “Fortunately, everyone in our household is healthy. We do a lot of home testing before we see anyone and just try to be as safe as possible,” Osborne told the Sentinel. “This whole thing with COVID is like being in an abusive relationship. You know, just when you think you’ve come out and it’s over, you’re drawn back into it again. It’s a bit crazy.
Q: “It’s been a particularly difficult time for performers.”
A: “There’s the side where you want to be as safe as possible, but you also have to live your life,” Osborne said. “We understand that live music is important to people’s souls and psyches. It’s not just about me and my life, it’s about what live music can do for communities and individuals. It is an important thing. We’re going to be as safe as possible. But we also understand that there are reasons to tour and have live music.
Live musical rituals
A: “It became clear that being in a group of people at a show – dancing and listening – is almost a ritual that people really miss.”
Q: “There’s a mental health crisis going on right now because we’re so cut off from each other,” Osborne explained. “And because we don’t have these rituals where we bond with people. Just walk into a room with a group of strangers – your fellow people who are not part of your family or your group – and have an experience together; it is important for the social fabric. Especially in a time when people have been so pitted against each other by political forces, whether you are on the left or the right.
“As they say, there’s nothing that unites people like a common enemy,” Osborne continued. “And overcoming this pandemic could have been this common enemy that would have brought us together as a society, because we have been divided for many years. It could have been some kind of balm and instead threw more fuel on that fire. It gives people another reason to hate each other and feel more polarized.
“We’re such a divided society and live music is one of the few opportunities that you just have to be with people and not think of them as their politics and the tribe they belong to. But just like other human beings who benefit from an experience,” Osborne said. “I think music has a job to do right now. We don’t want people getting sick with this virus. But there is also a risk to our social fabric and our mental health by completely removing the arts from our lives.
Q: “I love the album and you sound great on these recordings.”
A: “Thank you very much. During the pandemic, of course, we were forced to stay home. So I ended up going through a lot of my cupboards that I wanted to clean out over the last seven years. And I discovered all these old tapes, CDs and files on my computer through the many radio visits I’ve made over the years,” Osborne explained. “Almost every time we go on tour, we visit many stations different radio stations and you walk in, talk to the DJs and play your latest music. So I discovered all these recordings given to me by radio engineers as we walked through the door. I’ll say “Thank you” and then put it in a box somewhere. I found all these great versions of the songs we had done over the years and it really started to take shape.
A: “You started your own label Womanly Hips. Did you do this so you could produce your music without being controlled by corporate labels?
Q: “It was 1991 when I started Womanly Hips Records. It was really just because I was in this position where I was touring all over the Northeast and we were starting to develop a serious following and a pretty large audience,” Osborne recalled. “Everywhere we went, people were like, ‘I want to buy your record.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t have a record.’ Maybe I should get in on it! It wasn’t like there were majors knocking on my door trying to sign me. So I went to the library and the bookstores and bought these books on how to put out your own record. I just did some DIY. There was a big tradition of that with punk bands in the 70s and so there was a real precedent. I really learned lessons from those people. I made my own version of it.
Q: “Punk is the music that struck me when I was 17 in 1979. Was it important to you?”
A: “It was very important as an example of; you don’t need anyone’s permission to make music a big part of your life,” Osborne said. “You have to get involved and have ideas that you want to spread. But you don’t have to be chosen by someone else. You can do it on your own and I think the whole DIY aesthetic was very important to me and a lot of other bands that came out of the scene that I came out of. You don’t have to wait for someone to choose you, you can just do it yourself. It was a real kind of liberating and liberating idea.
Q: “Your voice is powerful. You are in a way lamenting over “Sainte Thérèse”. And “Shake Your Hips” goes into this slight chaos where you hold the notes for a long time.
A: “’Saint Therese’ came from a visit in 1995 to a radio station in Los Angeles (KCRW). The moaning quality you speak of is largely because I was listening to a lot of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He was a Pakistani singer of qawwali style music, which is spiritual music from Pakistan and India,” Osborne said. “It’s really about reaching that state of ecstasy and getting closer to God in the same way that American gospel music does. I fell in love with it and experimented a bit with these techniques with my own voice. ‘Saint Therese’ has these lyrical ideas of spirituality and connection to the ecstatic. Yeah, that’s one of my favorites on the record.
“We did a blues record called ‘Bring it on Home’ and ‘Shake Your Hips’ came from that. I’ve been blessed to work with some amazing musicians throughout my career. This particular track lets you really to see the power of this great group,” Osborne continued. “It’s like jumping on a Harley Davidson or something! (laughs) You have this incredible power behind you and it really lifts you to places where you would never have been before as a singer. And it’s really wonderful to go back and revisit too.
“I also like a couple of demos that I filed away that I completely forgot about. There’s a Toshi Reagon song called ‘Real Love.’ I sang with a beatbox and layered in some voice over it and I was going to come back to it later and I never did,” Osborne said. “And I rediscovered that. It’s like looking at old photographs.
Q: “It’s wonderful that you’ve had such a long and successful career.”
A: “I appreciate that I’m lucky to have done this for over thirty years for my career,” Osborne said. “It’s a rare privilege to be able to make music in this way. I really owe everything to the public and the fans who continue to come to the performances. It’s not something I take for granted. Every time we come to a city, we give 110% and want to let people know that we really appreciate them. We know we wouldn’t be here without them.
Listen to this interview with Joan Osborne Thursday noon on “Transformation Highway” with John Malkin on KZSC 88.1 FM / kzsc.org.