Review: Joan Osborne shares some standards on ‘radio waves’

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Joan Osborne/radio waves/Female Hips/MRi Entertainment
3.5 out of five stars

Best known for her signature song “One of Us”, Joan Osborne has generally maintained an ubiquitous presence over her ten album/25 year career. But like so many others, she was forced to take a breather during the enforced pandemic isolation while figuring out how to spend her energy when her concerts were canceled and she was cut off from her audience. Luckily, she used the time wisely, combing through the archives of over 100 live radio appearances and coming up with an album of outstanding entries.

The result, an album aptly titled radio waves, gleans a dozen selections from a baker who share Osborne’s interpretations of other people’s material as sung in his own singular style. It doesn’t overlook its own backstory – stripped down versions of “One of Us” and “Little Wild One” are included in the setlist – but for the most part the album allows Osborne to share his performing skills. and to put a singular stamp on certain well-established standards. Results vary – soul classic ‘How Sweet It Is’ takes a rambunctious twist that’s a far cry from Marvin Gaye’s upbeat original, though Osborne retains the gritty groove that gave ‘My Love Is Alive’ of Gary Wright its urgency and insistence. His fascinating version of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips”, covered by the Rolling Stones on Exile on the main street and Osborne herself on her 2003 album Bring him home, retains the unwavering urgency that propelled the original.

On the other hand, her tender rendition of “Dream a Little Dream” reflects the melancholic tenderness that Mama Cass Elliot shared when she sang it.

The rest of the ensemble follows suit, from the steady rhythm of Toshi Reagon’s “Real Love” and the exuberant resolution of Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know” to the dreamlike conceptions of “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan and the moving influence of Bill Withers co-writing “Same Love That Made Me Laugh” and Stevie WOnder’s upbeat “Love’s In Need of Love Today.”

Granted, radio waves is, in fact, an interim effort designed to buy time until Osborne can resume touring in earnest. Still, given that it’s a way to bring his skills back into the limelight, it succeeds admirably.

Photo by Jeff Fasano/Shorefire Media

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