I listen to an album of Bob Dylan covers looking for revelations: Treatments of familiar songs that will make me feel like I’m hearing them for the first time. And Joan Osborne’s new album, Songs of Bob Dylan, does give me that, at times, and is quite enjoyable even when it doesn’t.
The most satisfying track, for me, is “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.” Dylan’s original version sounded like a raucous party, of course. Osborne, working with keyboardist Keith Cotton (with whom she co-produced the album) and guitarist Jack Petruzzelli, makes the lyrics sound like a dire warning. This, miraculously, fits just as well. The song contains lines such as “They’ll stone you when you’re set down in your grave,” after all.
Imagine how the Blind Boys of Alabama might sing this song: That’s, more or less, what Osborne does with it.
I also like her “Dark Eyes,” which is sweet and lilting in a way I’ve never heard this song before; and her “High Water (for Charley Patton),” which is — fittingly — brisker and more urgent than the original. The soulful pleading in her “Spanish Harlem Incident” also made this song cut a little deeper for me than it usually does. And a new arrangement underscores the menace of “Highway 61 Revisited.”
Other tracks — a stately “Ring The Bells,” an easy-going “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” a delicate, dreamy “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” — are significantly less adventurous. She sings with great sensitivity, but presents the songs as we already know them, more or less.
But that’s the thing about a covers album. It’s nearly impossible to make every track a revelation. If you can rise to that standard just a few times — and Osborne does — that’s enough.
A show titled “Joan Osborne Sings the Songs of Bob Dylan” will be presented at the Grunin Center at Ocean County College in Toms River, Oct. 14; and Roy’s Hall in Blairstown, Nov. 11. Osborne will also perform at a benefit for the Blue Rose Foundation at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, Oct. 18, along with Steve Earle, Steve Forbert, Anders Osborne, Jackie Greene and Jason Crosby.