Joan Osborne, a Faithful Adherent of Eclecticism

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The theme of Joan Osborne's genre-jumping Sunday set at the Birchmere seemed to be: Have voice, will travel.

Osborne, 45, has had but one mainstream pop smash, "One of Us," the 1995 track that bothered Holy Rollers and heathens alike. The religious element took offense at lyrics that had casual pope references and asked: "What if God was one of us? / Just a slob like one of us?" The godless got annoyed after about a year of being unable to turn on a radio without hearing it.

Osborne confessed to fans Sunday that she's tried for more hits. "This was supposed to be a big single," she bemoaned after belting out "Who Divided," a Shania Twain-ish nugget that she recorded last year in Nashville and unsuccessfully lobbied country radio programmers to play. She stayed countryish with a cover of "When the Blue Hour Comes," a tastefully somber piece written by Texans of different generations, Rodney Crowell and Roy Orbison.

The 90-minute set also included Bonnie Raitt-like takes of both "Brokedown Palace," a tune by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, and "Only You Know and I Know" by Dave Mason. Osborne delivered "Breakfast in Bed," a Dusty Springfield-lite soul song about a hooker and her john, and a John Lee Hookeresque blues boogie arrangement of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me." Osborne seemed most in her comfort zone during "Make You Feel My Love," a Bob Dylan song (which as presented by Osborne and her four-piece band sounded like "I'll Be There" by the Jackson 5). Less thrilling were her faithful versions of two R&B classics that really don't need to be covered: Gladys Knight's post-Motown all-timer "Midnight Train to Georgia" and Jimmy Ruffin's Motown gold, "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted."

When she got around to "One of Us," Osborne downplayed the portions of her signature song that name-drop the pope, and everybody in the packed house seemed to have her back.

-- Dave McKenna

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company