By Laura Latzko
In the mid ’90s, Joan Osborne showcased her vocal talents with the hit song “One of Us.” The artist continues to make music but focuses on that of Bob Dylan these days.
She will perform a Bob Dylan-focused show at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Sunday, February 6, to promote her album The Songs of Bob Dylan. During the tour, Osborne will sing the songs as part of a trio, but fans may hear her hits during the encore.
Osborne’s recording love of Dylan goes back to her 1995 album, Relish, for which she covered the bard’s “Man in The Long Black Coat.” However, she doesn’t remember the first Dylan song she ever heard. She thinks it was at the height of his popularity.
“We didn’t personally own any of Dylan’s records at our home, but it wasn’t like you could escape it if you were listening to the radio,” she says.
“I’m sure I heard some of the songs he had on the radio when I was a little child. I was raised Catholic, so maybe some of the nuns did ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in guitar Mass. It’s really impossible to say because he’s such a part of American musical culture, American political culture and just American life.”
She chose Dylan partially because of his extensive repertoire.
“He has this incredibly deep catalog of songs,” she says. “There are literally hundreds of great songs. You can take any of his songs, and another artist would have been satisfied to just write that in their entire career, and he had hundreds of these songs.”
For Songs of Bob Dylan, she chose songs from throughout his career. Her approach was slightly different, depending on the song’s arrangement and meaning, as well her vocal style.
“We wanted to give listeners a new way into these songs, a way to discover something different, some angle on the song that hadn’t been exploited before,” Osborne says.
Osborne considers Dylan’s songs highly expressive.
“Dylan himself is not known as a soulful singer, and yet the words are so full of soul, so full of meaning, particularly the love songs. All of it is very passionate,” she says. “I guess I’m known as a bluesy kind of singer or a soulful sort of singer, so it gave me a lot to work with.”
Osborne wanted to add to the songs while maintaining the qualities that made them special. “Highway 61 Revisited,” for example, was altered to have more of a Middle Eastern sound.
“We ended up giving it this compulsive rhythm, which for me gave a lot of energy to the song,” Osborne says. “It takes off in a breakneck way. I’m spitting the lyrics out. It gives them a lot of ferocity. I feel like that’s an interesting reading of the song that audiences tend to respond to.”
Osborne says fans are also touched by songs such as “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” and “Buckets of Rain.”
“For me, so many of the songs are drenched in this kind of tenderness. I think that people are a little surprised by that,” Osborne says.
Songs like “Masters of War” speak to listeners because of today’s political climate.
“Because it’s one of the most powerfully political songs that Dylan has ever written and because we’re living in a time where people are very engaged in politics, that tends to really set people off,” she says. “We get a big response from that.”
The shows emphasize the music, with beautiful spare arrangements.
“I think it really puts the focus on the songs and the singing,” she says. “You don’t have a whole lot of bells and whistles and other things to fill up space, so it’s really about the power of these songs and the human voice.”
What: Joan Osborne Sings the Songs of Bob Dylan
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, February 6
Where: Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress Street
Info: 547.3040, foxtucson.com