How Sweet It Is
Joan knows music. And an album is all about the songs, as she establishes on How Sweet It Is [Womanly Hips/Compendia, 2002; 12, 53:13]. Rarely have I heard as successful a covers album.
"War" takes on fresh significance under Joan's command, whether by design or coincidence. Whitfield and Strong's lyrics remain on target. Departing from the Starr original, Joan gives the tune a comfortable workout, returning it shower fresh. Her personal treatment of "Everybody Is A Star" is as effective a closing as on Energy (Pointer Sisters).
Presently, my favourite cut is "Why Can't We Be Together," also timely, in an affecting performance with Joan doing all vocals. A piece I've always liked was "Only You Know And I Know," great hearing again, particularly done so well, not that earlier versions were shabby. The title song is not James Taylor's. It's a Holland, Dozier and Holland chestnut. [Who knew Dozier's middle name was Herbert? Not me. Then again, I imagined the album title referred to Jackie Gleason, a reflection of way too much TVland.] Among the many highlights is the other Whitfield-Strong piece, "Smiling Faces Sometimes," with Isaac Hayes playing himself and Meshell Ndegeocello playing bass. Maybe Gail Ann Dorsey was busy, though Meshell is super.
These great songs, many familiar, seamlessly fit together. The arrangements must be excellent because I never thought, "Gee. I wish I had the original" which, in some cases, I do. John Leventhal's production is outstanding. "Think" is particularly creative, exploring the song a new way, plus now I understand the lyrics. So that's what Aretha was singing.
Fourteen years my junior, Joan's impact still surprises me. She's powerful! Then again, I'm young at heart or, as some describe it, sophomoric.
Having accomplished the remarkable feat of co-writing and performing two great, unique albums, Joan Osborne gives composing a rest with others's songs that showcase her talents and delight listeners, especially this one. It's another new album that suffers most from being too short. Still, it can be replayed without fear of boredom because How Sweet It Is is a gem.
Another Osborne killer CD.
Righteous Love [Interscope, 2000; 11, 46:31]
merges Joan's considerable talents with those of Mitchell Froom,
who co-produces most of the album, in addition to tinkling the ivories.
Her 1995 epic, the best album ever named after a condiment,
sparkled with religious overtones ("One of Us", "St Teresa"), mostly
absent here, where the great title song has lyrics like:
Oh you can ask me once
And I will tell you twice
No one's convincing me
this isn't paradise
More celebratory than before, with the band's encouragement.
Check out the guitar work on "Safety In Numbers."
Steve Berlini's sax gives the album authority, but Eric Lawrence's
baritone sax ("Baby Love") really grabs me. Other noteworthy songs
are "Grand Illusion," peppy with an amazing arrangement, and "If I Was
Your Man," arguably her best vocal.
On Righteous Love, Joan is less strident, more controlled than
on Relish, without losing her sizzle. There are mellow moments, but
this ain't no Barry Manilow. Possibly George Harrison.
There are two covers. "Love Is Alive" by Gary Wright is hotter than
the original. "Make You Feel My Love" is a beautiful Dylan song. She covered
his "Man in the Long Black Coat" on Relish, but you can't overdo Dylan.
Righteous Love is well-engineered. On speakers or headphones,
it's flawlessly mixed. If you loved Relish (and why wouldn't you?),
she maintains the energy,
resists rehashing her original recipe. The music is powerful and familiar
in the way you feel you
should already have heard these great songs. Righteous Love is exciting,
diverse and fun.
CD Now had the album, so I splurged. $13.99 is outrageous for a compact disc, but I wanted it. A couple of days later, I saw Righteous Love in Tower. After the paramedics revived me, I made sure I hadn't hallucinated. $18.99!?§! Talk about highway robbery. Oh, I just did.