Joan Osborne - Prospect Park, Brooklyn, 6/16/07

Joan Osborne was positively brilliant performing before her hometown Brooklyn crowd as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn! concert series at the Prospect Park Bandshell. Her well selected set spanned her entire career, including nice chunks of both of her current albums.

Although Joan has been well known as a singer-songwriter since releasing Relish(1995) with its huge hit "One of Us", the range of versatility as a performer that she has displayed over the past few years, singing on Standing In The Shadows of Motown(2002), singing with The Dead (2003) and also with Phil Lesh & Friends (2006); combined with her highly developed songwriting skill (the originals on her two current albums are equal to or better than the superbly chosen cover songs) is proof that she is totally an artist working at the top of her game. Her nearly two hour performance at Prospect Park embodied all of these qualities and then some.

The sound and lighting at this venue are quite impressive, with absolutely perfect sound, a rarity in most venues, most especially in an outdoor amphitheater. The bass was deep and strong while the mid-range and the highs were clear as a bell and perfectly mixed to allow every element of the music to be clearly heard. I don't think I've ever heard concert sound better than this.

The entire show, including the opening set by the Jazz Passengers was professionally shot using five television cameras by Brooklyn Community Access Television (BCAT) and was carried live on the local cable access channel in Brooklyn. While the five camera shoot may have seemed like overkill for a community access broadcast, the folks at home in Brooklyn were undoubtedly treated to an amazing live show right there in their living rooms. Being that audio and video aspects of this production were so well executed, it would be a shame if this show were not made available on DVD in some fashion.

There's nothing posted yet on YouTube from the cablecast, but here is a handheld audience video of "One of Us".

Check out the guitar solo in this clip which shows just a little of the great lead work that guitarist Andrew Carillo added to the songs all night long. The rest of the band seemed similarly talented, with Keith Cotton on Hammond B-3 organ, keyboards, and backing vocals, Richard Hammond on bass and backing vocals, and Aaron Comess on drums.

Joan opened the show with a one-two punch of the title tracks from her two latest albums, first "Breakfast in Bed" from her recently released soul album, then "Pretty Little Stranger" from her country album released at the end of 2006, both perfect show openers, and both perfect examples of how her songwriting makes these songs even more exiting than the excellent cover material that is also contained on both records.

Next she jumped back to her 2002 CD of similarly well chosen soul cover songs, for the title track, "How Sweet It Is" which she dedicated to "The People's Republic of Brooklyn". Joan and her band did an inspired version of this old Marvin Gaye classic, written by Holland-Dozier-Holland, complete with dazzling guitar solo. "Right Hand Man" totally rocked.

"Holy Waters" was another gorgeous and welcome selection from Pretty Little Stranger. The Sonny Boy Williamson penned "Help Me" which Joan covered on Relishsounded awesome in an updated version in which the bass line was reminiscent of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground".

When I first heard Pretty Little Stranger"Who Divided" knocked me out as a totally great single featuring the clever wordplay that is mostly unheard outside country radio these days. This is one of Joan's own compositions for the record, one of her all time best. It was crushing to hear her say that although the record company pushed it as a country single, it got picked up by exactly zero country radio stations. She said her hope for this song now is that some country singer discovers and covers it; it would be a crime for this great single to not get it's due. Joan drove the point home with a great sounding live version.

Who divided up the days into hours,
The hours into minutes,
How could they really be that smart.
Who divided up the minutes into seconds,
They must've had a broken heart.

Listen to Joan Osborne - Who Divided

Joan sort of apologized several times for the "country record", maybe thinking that the Brooklyn crowd wouldn't be down with it. There's no need for any apology. First, great music is great music regardless of the genre, and Pretty Little Strangeris a great record, pure and simple, perhaps Joan's best work. Second, although partially recorded in Nashville and while it does have country elements, it's as soulful as it is country, with plenty of rock and pop influences as well, making it as well rounded as a record could possibly be.

Joan also mentioned a few times that she was nervous prior to the show, for the sake of performing in her home town, in front of her neighbors ("would I be able to show my face the next day"). All worries were needless as she more than acquitted herself as one of Brooklyn's best ever world class artists.

"Brokedown Palace" is another gem from the Pretty Little Stranger album that sounded amazing when she sang it live. She has described in interviews that it's her favorite Grateful Dead song (written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter), and that she never got to sing it during the summer she toured as a singer with The Dead (the post Jerry Garcia project that also added Warren Haynes to the Dead lineup). The beauty of the songwriting is clearly evident in Joan's version.

Listen to Joan Osborne - Brokedown Palace

Joan called on three members of the Jazz Messengers to come back out to play with her band on "Butterfly" (one of Joan's compositions) and "Kiss and Say Goodbye" (a cover), both from Breakfast in Bed. "War (What is it Good For?)" had even old grannies getting down and dancing in the aisles. Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" was a great choice from Righteous Love(2000). Dave Mason's "Only You Know and I Know" from How Sweet It Iswas a rousing set ender.

For the encore, Joan unleashed an intense version of "St. Theresa" and then ended the night beautifully with the Rodney Crowell-Roy Orbison-Will Jennings composition "When the Blue Hour Comes", another more than welcome choice from Pretty Little Stranger. We made the last minute decision to drive up from Philadelphia for this show knowing that it would be good, but left the venue completely knocked out by the excellence of the performance on every level.

The Setlist:
Breakfast in Bed
Pretty Little Stranger
How Sweet It Is
Right Hand Man
Holy Waters
Help Me
Who Divided
Brokedown Palace
Kiss and Say Goodbye
One of Us
Make You Feel My Love
Only You Know and I Know
St. Theresa
When the Blue Hour Comes

Joan Osborne's myspace.
Joan Osborne's website.
Celebrate Brooklyn website.

Buy Pretty Little Stranger at Amazon

Buy Breakfast in Bed at Amazon

The Jazz Passengers - The Supremes Project, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, 6/16/07

The Jazz Passengers under the leadership of saxophonist Roy Nathanson performed a set of jazz interpretations of classic songs first popularized by The Supremes as part of The Supremes Project which was commissioned by the Celebrate Brooklyn Festival and workshopped earlier this year at BRIC Arts | Media | Brooklyn. The Messengers cleverly opened the show by getting their jazz engines firing on all cylinders on John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" until Nathanson suddenly yelled "Stop!" which led into "Stop in the Name of Love" with the melody line performed quite nicely on vibraphone.

There was a great rendition of "I Hear a Symphony" and even a Supremes rarity, they did the b-side of "You Keep Me Hangin' On", inspired by Elvis Costello's version. This was no smooth jazz exercise in cover material, the jazz got intense at times, but the familiarity of the material kept the set well grounded and kept the audience locked in. It was a most pleasing opening set.


Anonymous said…
Great review. I could listen to Joan Osborne sing just about anything. She's got such an unusual and distinctive voice.
Just been to see Joan at a small, intimate gig in London. To say she was totally aweinspiring isn't to do her justice. From the power, clarity, soulfullness yet sensitivity of her voice (she reminded me at times of a cross between Janis Joplin and Dusty Springfield) to the really funky band, this was perfect occasion. In over 40 years and numberless events this is at the very top - and I include the original Motown acts of the 60's. This is an artist to whom the music is everything - a rare talent she communicates with sheer emotion to the appreciative audience. Don't leave it so long to visit us in London again Joan. Bring it on!

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