Joan Osborne's latest disc, "Bring It On Home," has somewhat of a "back to the future" feel for the singer. Part of that might stem from the fact that the album contains many covers from the blues and soul world, but the memories that the songs evoke take her back to her musical roots.
"I cut my teeth by learning how to sing blues, soul, and R&B songs," she recalls, "and the people that I tried to imitate when I first started out were Etta James, Otis Redding, Tina Turner, and Muddy Waters. Those were the people that I wanted to sound like. So, having been doing this for twenty years now, I'm kind of circling back to doing that same music again, which is sort of interesting, you know. I feel like my voice has changed, grown, and gotten better. I think that when I was in my 20s, I didn't have what I have now vocally. It's been cool to tackle this kind of material again."
Though she has recorded cover tunes before in her career, she admitted to Billboard that doing songs like "Shake Your Hips" and "I Don't Need No Doctor" could be "definitely intimidating. You have to realize that you can only be who you are, and you can only bring what you have to it. We felt like we found a lot of things that worked well with my voice. I felt like I had an interesting take on them."
She did say there was no pressure to out-do the originals, because that's impossible. "You don't want to try to beat Muddy Waters at his own game, because that can't be done, but you can take one of his songs, and maybe find a different way into it. With 'I Want To Be Loved,' from the record, his version has a brash insistence about it, and I felt like it would be interesting for a woman to take it, and make it a little more seductive, and bring a little more of a feminine energy to it. That's how we tried to approach that. We did similar things to some of the other songs, where we tweaked them a little bit, so that listeners could hear something fresh in them."
Osborne reflected that having life's experiences under her belt made her relate to these songs more than she might have when she started out. "I think that definitely has a part to play - when you're talking about this kind of music, it's not theoretical, it's real experiences. If I was 21 and singing these songs, I would be singing them from a place of imagining what the situation felt like. Now, I'm much more likely to be singing knowing how the situation feels like, and being able to understand it a little more deeply. It's a cliché, but I do think it's true - You can only bring to the music what is inside you, and the more you have inside you, the richer your ability to interpret this material."
Though each track has a special place in her heart, the idea for the album stemmed from her label, Saguaro Road. "We were backstage at a show at the Lincoln Center with the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. I was guest vocalist with them, and Saguaro Road - which also released their album - was there, and approached me after the show, saying 'We would really love to hear you do this kind of stuff. Would you consider doing a record of Blues and Soul covers?"
The association between Osborne and the label, an imprint of Time-Life, works well, according to the songstress. "They've been doing it for a long time, and they do it very well. They are a little more hands off with the creative side, and I find that frees me up to do what I need to do as a writer, as a performer in the studio. It's a case of us not getting in each others' way. I feel like I've got some real champions over there, and people who are real supportive of me. I'm appreciative of that."
The spring months have Osborne on the road, sharing the music of "Bring It On Home" to her fans (Get tour dates here ). "It's fun music to play live. We've had some incredible shows where people are up on their feet, clapping."