Thursday, April 20, 2006

Joan Osborne at Southpaw

It’s about time she was back on the scene again, ‘cause the lady can blow. It had been five or six years since we saw her last, at Irving Plaza, and it was evident last night that she had matured as a musician. I mean, she was terrific back then, but to see her in the intimate setting of Southpaw with the band hanging off her every word and motion just proved she’s not been lying fallow. If anything, she’s gained more control over her soulful voice and more mastery of leading a band. If her early recordings sounded like Janis Joplin with more vocal depth and less pain and drugs, her current vocals contain a lot more Etta James, with patches of Patsy Cline restraint and hints of the Qawwali music style she learned from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.*

The Patsy Cline influence was most obvious last night, with a few nods to Dolly and Loretta, as she and her band used the audience as “guinea pigs” to test a new set of country-style tunes. Mrs. Nator and I had been musing during the country-flavoured pre-show music that Osborne might be moving toward this style - which is not surprising, considering her southern roots - and agreed that her voice could easily fit a country-soul mode. We were not disappointed. Taking the stage in a simple white cotton dress, Osborne called to mind a shy 50s housewife at a VFW dinner who suddenly busted out with serious talent (“Hey, y’all know Ellie Sue can sing? Git up there on the stage, Ellie Sue, and show them what you can do!” “Aw, no, I couldn’t… I’ve got to serve up the pie, now. Welll-l-l, o-kay…” Ka-POW!). Despite the unfamiliarity of the material, the audience ate it up, and each song was CD-perfect, tight. One of my particular favourites, not surprisingly, was a country-western lesbian love ballad to one “Jane”. Alas, Ms. Osborne is, as far as I’ve heard, all hetero, but that didn’t stop her from imbuing the piece with the sincerity of a consummate performer. Don’t make me stalk you, Joan.

Despite our advancing age, Mrs. Nator and I probably fell in the mid-range of the audience spectrum, proving Osborne’s wide appeal. We were, no doubt, not the only ones out past our bedtime – and Mrs. Nator with a bum knee, no less – but it was well worth it to stay for through the end of the set and into the encore. Despite protesting that her some of new band didn’t know her old songs well, Osborne treated us to stomping renditions of “Spider Web” and “St. Teresa” that had almost everyone out of their seats and pressed toward the stage. Although the set could easily have stood on its own without the old material, it was a satisfying coda that left everybody energized and smiling.

All in all, the best show I’ve been to in some time, and well worth dragging my sorry ass out on a Wednesday night. I certainly do hope that the material Osborne’s been shopping around for the last year or two finally gets released, and the songs she did last night do get recorded in Nashville soon, as she is planning. It’s sadly unsurprising in this candy-pop, hip-hop world that a singer of such old-school skill and substance can go unreleased and unpromoted for such a long period of time, but that doesn’t make it any less of a crime.

*Note: I didn't just have that memorized because I really am a stalker - I just read it on her bio this morning. Besides, Mrs. Nator frowns heavily on stalking, unless it's related to ridiculous kitty hijinks.

1 comment:

Helen said...

SWEET! She is so drastically underrated. Saint Teresa is such an amazing song, wow.

Well written review, lady.