If you last heard one-hit-wonder Joan Osborne doing “One of Us” in the 1990s, a turn to the blues likely comes as a shock. But time has weathered her voice in the best of ways, and her abiding passion for these soulful sides did the rest.
Osborne spent the years since that ’95 smash honing her craft on tour, exploring social activism, appearing as a guest on countless projects — and further exploring the R&B and roots music that had appealed to her from the beginning. Those who followed along heard direct antecedents to Bring It On Home on 2002′s How Sweet It Is and 2007′s Breakfast in Bed, though neither displays the flinty grit, or the bracing honesty, of this new set.
She returned to tape for Bring It On Home, invited famous names like the Holmes Brothers, Jimmy Vivino and Hall of Fame pianist and composer Allen Toussaint, and reconnected with one of her earliest professional collaborators in guitarist and keyboardist Jack Petruzzelli.
In fact, Petruzzelli, who co-produced Bring It On Home with Osborne, has created with her off and on since 1988. “When I first started working with her,” Petruzzelli tells us, “it was the blues and R&B we were playing, so revisiting this style of music has been nostalgic — as well as exciting to try and create something that’s part of our past and be contemporary.”
Osborne, more often than not, finds her own place in this legacy — no easy thing. For instance, whereas Muddy Waters brought this carnal danger to “I Want To Be Loved,” Osborne’s take boasts a dusky seductiveness. At the same time, her version of the old Slim Harpo number “Shake Your Hips” drips with an overt, going-my-way sexuality. The title cut, musically, replicates the hard-drinking scampiness of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s familiar side, even as Osborne adds a confidential depth to the more straight-forward come-on of Led Zeppelin’s swiped copy.
Her way with the lyric, once a wonder of diaphanous innocence on “One of Us,” thrums with a dark, knowing power now.
Meanwhile, Bring It On Home rumbles along with a sparky verve thanks to a crack band of sidemen. Osborne’s regular group of guitarist Andrew Carrillo, keyboardist Keith Cotton, bassist Richard Hammond and drummer Aaron Comess are augmented by Toussaint (on a delicious new reading of his “Shoo-rah! Shoo-rah!,” once a hit for Betty Wright), Petruzzelli and harpist “Barbecue” Bob Pomeroy. The rest of her selections were inspired, too — from the Ike Turner deep cut “Game of Love,” to Ray Charles’ “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” from John Mayall’s “Broken Wings” to Al Green’s “Rhymes.” None of them were so familiar that they were difficult to rework, yet all of them boasted an essential, elementary groove.
This mixture, tangy and right, helped Osborne and Petruzzelli earn a 2013 Grammy nomination for best blues album; that’s Osborne’s seventh nod, though all of the others followed her initial hit. “She has always been Grammy worthy,” Petruzzelli added, “and has always been dedicated to singing her very best.”
Still the nomination came as something of a surprise: “Even though it was brought up by the representative of the record company as we were making the album, I didn’t think about it,” Petruzzelli told us. “We set out to give respect to the original recordings, but bring new life through the arrangements. To be recognized with a nomination reinforces my satisfaction that we did just that.”
Indeed, it does. Seek this one out. The nomination committee got it completely right.