Review: Joan Osborne Shares a Few Standards on ‘Radio Waves’

Joan Osborne/Radio Waves/Womanly Hips/MRi Entertainment
3.5 Out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Best known for her signature song “One of Us,” Joan Osborne has generally maintained a pervasive presence over the course of her ten album/25-year career. But like so many others, she was forced to take a respite during the forced isolation of the pandemic while contemplating how to expend her energy when her concerts were cancelled and she was cut off from her audiences. Happily then, she used the time wisely, trolling through the archives of over 100 live radio appearances and coming up with an album’s worth of outstanding entries.

The result, an album appropriately titled Radio Waves, gleans a baker’s dozen worth of selections that share Osborne’s interpretations of other people’s material as sung in her own singular style. She doesn’t neglect her own backstory—stripped-down takes on “One of Us” and “Little Wild One” are included in the setlist—but mostly the album allows Osborne to share her interpretive skills and put a singular stamp on some well-established standards. The results vary—the soul classic “How Sweet It Is” is given a tempestuous turn that’s a world away from Marvin Gaye’s upbeat original even as Osborne retains the gritty groove that gave Gary Wright’s “My Love Is Alive” its urgency and insistence. Her riveting version of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips,” famously covered by the Rolling Stones on Exile on Main Street and Osborne herself on her album 2003 Bring It Home, retains the unflinching urgency that propelled the original.

On the other hand, her tender take on “Dream a Little Dream” reflects the wistful tenderness Mama Cass Elliot shared when she sang it.

The remainder of the set follows suit, from the steady pacing of Toshi Reagon’s “Real Love” and the rollicking resolve of Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know” to the dreamy designs of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” and the soulful sway of the Bill Withers co-write “Same Love That Made Me Laugh” and Stevie WOnder’s overtly optimistic “Love’s In Need of Love Today.”

Granted, Radio Waves is, in effect, a stopgap effort designed to buy time until Osborne can resume touring in earnest. Still, given that it’s a means of putting her skills back into the spotlight, it succeeds admirably.

Photo by Jeff Fasano/Shorefire Media

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