FIVE YEARS AGO, Joan Osborne burst on to the music scene with her major label debut, Relish. The success of her hit, One Of Us, and subsequent Grammy nominations were followed by the sort of lull that takes many first time stars out of the public eye and into one-hit wonder status.
However, Osborne is back with the album Righteous Love. It is a delight for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a growing spiritual dimension to her work.
Relish was notable for many reasons, but chief was the fact that her soulful and sultry alto wrapped itself around lyrics that had God as a reference point. However, a song like One Of Us, which posed the scenario of God as “just a slob like one of us; just a stranger on the bus” was the exception. More typical were more obtuse reference points. While anything but devotional, they remained fascinating for a Christian listener not used to hearing about God in a secular song.
However, there are far more indications on Righteous Love that God is the object of Osborne’s quest. There is nothing to imply a specificity to the Triune God of orthodox Christianity; in fact, the influence of eastern spirituality has lots of clues, such as the conspicuous entry of sitars and the like this time around.
There is much, though, to suggest a search going on in the life of a 38-year-old. “I’m bouncing you a message off the night sky,” she sings in the album opener, Running Out Of Time, melding the Eastern sounds and her funky groove into a straight North American back beat.
By the time of the next-to-last track, Poison Apples (Hallelujah), Osborne as Eve wails to her Adam “See, God would never be so cruel to make me live without your face.”
Osborne also drops hints of personal pain as a trigger for both spiritual search and artistic expression. Her melodic backdrop is a sultry groove in a straight pop beat in the relatively upbeat Safety In Numbers. The message, though, is direct. “There is safety in numbers,” she declares. “No one will ever get near me again.”
There are covers ranging from the impish (Gary Wright’s Love Is Alive) to the profound (Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love.) However, the meat of Righteous Love is the ongoing journey of an artist who makes a welcome return with an album displaying artistic and personal growth. Wilfred Langmaid is Anglican chaplain of the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, and music critic for the Fredericton Gleaner.