Joan Osborne / Righteous Love (Archives, 2000)

“Can you see me rising since your disappearance? / Safe to say that I’ve regained myself.”

As far as most people know, these are the first words to come out of Joan Osborne’s mouth in five years. You’d think that anyone breaking through (with 1995’s Relish) at 33 wouldn’t want to endure her own “disappearance” for that long, and you’d be right. However, putting a followup together proved difficult, and eventually she even got dropped by her label.

The silver lining: paying for the sessions with her own savings, Osborne emerged with a disc made on her own terms, reflecting her tastes, strengths, weaknesses, and record collection.

Soul Is Where You Find It

Even before Osborne sings that first question, the first 30 seconds of “Running Out Of Time” say a lot about where her head has been. The intro reflects her growing familiarity with Middle Eastern scales and sounds, her preference for a no-frills but quite tight backing band, and a soft spot for the wah-wah rhythm guitar sound made famous in 1970s soul music and/or the theme from Starsky & Hutch.

The title track follows, culled straight from the heart of every girl-group record Phil Spector ever produced. The nostalgic sound is only trumped only by the way Osborne’s vocal slowly but steadily climbs up the syllabic stairs of “I’ve never been so sure of …”, packing every ounce of drama into the moment before the chorus’ release.

The latter borrows the introspective trill of a guitar riff from “Isn’t It A Pity”, but while Osborne obviously admires, she doesn’t mimic.

Eastern inflections plus 1970s instruments and Spectorish production? Yup, that spells “George Harrison” to me, too. “Grand Illusion”, with its lyric Hindu primer on reality, and “Poison Apples” confirm that Osborne owns a copy of All Things Must Pass as well. The latter borrows the introspective trill of a guitar riff from “Isn’t It A Pity”, but while Osborne obviously admires, she doesn’t mimic. Thanks perhaps in part to her studying with the late Nusrat Ali Fateh Kahn, the material allows her powerful voice to carry the songs in a way Harrison’s never could.

Covered With Conviction

Elsewhere, the cynicism of “Safety In Numbers” (with its ultra-nasal vocal approach) is out of place in a record about passion and strength. On the other hand, covers of Gary Wright’s funky “Love Is Alive” and Dylan’s tender “Make You Feel My Love” don’t reinvent but they do respect and then some.

Wearing such influences on her sleeve, Osborne steers each song toward either soul or the soul. Back on the opening track, she announces, “I’m sending you a message through the night sky / you’ll get it in a while.” It’s not without a couple of lulls, but Righteous Love does come off as a record of supreme conviction by a woman with a message.

Not only does Osborne hope you’ll get what she’s selling, she hopes you’ll get what she’s saying, and she’s already put her money where her mouth is to do it.

(This is another review from a batch of recently unearthed articles that I wrote for the Music Monitor in 2000-2001.)

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