Joan Osborne Sings the Songs of Bob Dylan in Cincinnati
Live! at the Ludlow Garage
I have seen the future of Bob Dylan interpretation – and her name is Joan Osborne.
Osborne, who’s successfully covered everyone from Billie Holliday to Muddy Waters to Jerry Garcia, has turned her sights on the recent Nobel Prize winner as a tour originally billed as the Joan Osborne Acoustic Trio morphed into Joan Osborne Sings the Songs of Bob Dylan.
Having covered “The Man in the Long Black Coat” on her debut album, Osborne appeared as the woman in the long black (floral-patterned) dress and opened her sold-out show at Live! at the Ludlow Garage with “Tonight I’ll be Staying Here with You.” The theme of the show was still a mystery to me, so the left-field track just seemed like an appropriate opener from the master interpreter.
Osborne then said she was planning an album of Dylan covers and she and her exceptional band – Keith Cotton on keys and Andrew Carillo on acoustic and electric guitars – were road testing the material.
“You guys are pretty much the guinea pigs,” she said to the 262-seat house.
She then proceeded to dive into Dylan’s songbook, playing numbers historic such as “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)” and contemporary, in the form of “Love Sick.” She played Dylan straight as on a true-blue reading of “Tangled up in Blue” and she tinkered with Dylan’s arrangements, transforming “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” into a finger-snapping, electric-blues shuffle that had the audience clapping and singing along.
She played well-known songs (“Highway 61 Revisited”) and masterful obscurities (“Dark Eyes”).
Her younger sister, Rebecca, and her guitar-playing partner, Katy Rene, who opened the show as griffytown, joined in for “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” as Osborne did for Dylan in 2016 as the Byrds did for Dylan in 1965.
Osborne was an effusive and effective frontwoman, introducing the songs and speaking reverently of Dylan’s writing. She crooned and she belted. She sang sweetly and saucily and shook and banged a white, star-shaped tambourine against her womanly hips (for which she named her record company). She stomped her high boots for percussive effect and her jangly jewelry added subtle sound effects. She commanded the stage, good-naturedly pitted the A audience against the B audience in the L-shaped venue in cheering competitions and captured their undivided attention simply by doing what she does so well.