There’s plenty of love involved in Joan Osborne’s first album of original material since 2008 although not a lot of hate. So the title might be a little misleading as the singer dives into a passionate dozen song cycle that examines love from various angles, not all of them uplifting. On the positive side, Osborne relates how her lover keeps her “Up All Night” and about the joys that come early in a relationship on the string enhanced opening “Where We Start.” But things soon turn darker as Osborne explores the frustrations of unrequited affection, an unflinching look at a relationship gone very bad with “Mongrels” and a request not to hear her lover’s indiscretions in the lite funk of “Keep it Underground.” Musically there is a dusky edge to many tracks, whether it’s the almost classical piano propelled ballad title tune or the throbbing bass that underlies the swirling, intense “Kitten’s Got Claws.” Even the tart tropicalia of “Work on Me” belies cloudy skies when Osborne sings “if I had known I would miss you like this/I would have made movies of every kiss.”
Regardless of the approach, Osborne is totally invested in these stories to the point where it seems impossible they aren’t personally inspired. Her sweet yet husky voice is a wonderfully expressive instrument, bringing emotional honesty, aka soul, to every performance. There is a hint of Dusty in Memphis R&B, not surprising since Osborne famously covered “Son of a Preacher Man” and her previous album was a set of R&B and blues covers. It may have taken six years to conjure up these dozen songs but she has been busy with other projects and the work and attention to lyrical detail shows how much effort was invested into the songs. Perhaps a few more mid-tempo rocking soulful moments such as the driving, bitter “Thirsty for my Tears” would better balance the slower tracks that dominate the disc, but there isn’t a weak moment here. Osborne’s compositional, arranging and vocal talents take the listener on a classy, beautifully realized musical journey through the trials, tribulations and occasionally even delights of love in its various guises.