Artists around the world who have spent more than 11 months indoors during the coronavirus pandemic have likely written more new songs in that amount of time than they have had in their lives combined. Singer-songwriter Joan Osborne went the other way. She recorded some new music, but found the songs in a box of old tapes.
“I ended up doing a lot of cleaning and found some big boxes in the back of the closet that I probably haven’t opened since I moved two apartments ago,” says Osborne. “I found all these recordings that were everything from recordings of sets from the late 80s to some newer stuff, and a lot of it was recorded on radio stations.”
Osborne had already released his tenth album, Politically Fueled problems and conflicts, but he didn’t want some of his old recorded tracks from live sessions and radio station performances to be lost. So she put together some of her favorite and most personal picks for her eleventh album, Radio tracks.
They may not all be original, but some of them are just as personal and meaningful to her. Take, for example, a demo of Doris Day’s “Dream a Little Dream” that she recorded in 2005.
“It was something I used to sing to my daughter when she was little,” Osborne says. “I’d sing it when I put her to sleep at night.”
“Music is a tool to help us connect to that joyful, positive energy, and that is our birthright and we should reclaim it.” -Joan Osborne
It is a testament to how connected Osborne can be to her music and across a variety of genres. She will perform songs by a number of them on Tuesday at The Kessler.
Osborne may be best known for her 1995 chart-topper “What if God Was One of Us,” off her hit album savor, but his contributions and influence on music go back much further. In 1991 she founded and still runs her own independent label, Womanly Hips Records. She has performed with Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and Isaac Hayes and toured with Jerry Garcia and the Funk Brothers. She has done performances at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Norway and for the Dalai Lama in her monastery.
Even with that long and impressive list of hits, Osborne realizes he still has a lot to do with his music for his fans and his children.
“My mother is now 90 and her brothers are dying,” Osborne says. “It made me think a lot about her time on Earth. My family has a history of dementia and she’s starting to show signs of it. It won’t be long until she knows who I am. That’s what I’m struggling with in these songs” . His latest original album, problems and conflicts, takes a turn towards political anger, immigration and social acceptance. He calls it “a more political record than any he’s ever made”.
“It’s really a response to the political climate in America in 2016 and seeing for myself as a citizen all this corruption was emerging and people were abusing their power, and it made me angry as a citizen…getting more active calling my representatives and doing circulate petitions, but I also thought [that] here I have this platform to make music and express my dismay.”
Osborne says he felt it was his responsibility to use his music for more than just tapping his toes.
“I have to say the thing that I’ve really started to realize is that music has a very important job to do right now, because we live in this world that is so polarized and we live in an age where we have isolated ourselves in our respective tribe and we’ve become very alienated from each other,” says Osborne. “I feel that music is one of the few arenas where people can come together not as members of political parties but just as human beings. To me, that’s real power.”
The songs about Problems and conflicts it’s not about preaching viewpoints to his listeners, he says.
“It’s all about reaching out to the people in my life and letting them know that no matter what happens in the world, we’ll be there for them, and the songs are about maintaining that sense of joy in being alive because we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by all the negativity in the world, and that doesn’t do anyone any good,” says Osborne. “Music is a tool to help us connect to that joyful, positive energy, and that is our birthright and we should reclaim it.”
Osborne says he’ll be performing a mix of songs from both albums with a few surprises at his Kessler show.
“So much of the show is, for me, about the sound and feel that is part of the room, and at The Kessler, it always feels like this is a very comfortable space,” she says. “The audience and how everyone is spread out, it’s a comfortable space and an intimate thing, particularly if I’m playing brand new songs. I want them to feel the impact these songs are having on the human beings that I hear in front of me, and at The Kessler you experience the sensation in a very real and visceral way.”
Joan Osborne, with special guest Remy Reilly, takes the stage on Tuesday at 8pm at The Kessler Theatre. Tickets start at $38.