SETTING THE STAGE…
Truth be told: We are huge Joan Osborne fans.
In our humble opinion, she’s one of the finest singers on the planet.
Ever since her definitive performance of “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” with Motown’s legendary Funk Brothers in the acclaimed 2002 film, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, we’d been patiently waiting for an opportunity see her perform live in the Garden State.
And that opportunity finally came on May 19, 2017 when we were invited to cover Osborne’s New Jersey performance at South Orange’s SOPAC theater.
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That evening, Osborne tore up the sold-out house with her brilliant, soulful, and bluesy performances of several of her own songs, in addition to a substantial number of selections created by one of the masters of contemporary songwriting — 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature recipient Bob Dylan.
After that spectacular performance, we knew we needed to hear more of Joan Osborne!
As a result, we specifically requested permission to cover another of Osborne’s New Jersey concerts, and — just eight weeks later — were thrilled to be able to attend her July 30, 2017 performance at The Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.
For anyone who might be wondering if seeing Joan Osborne again so soon might have caused us to become less appreciative of her considerable talent, we can assure you that was not the case at all.
Seeing and hearing Osborne again only made us appreciate her world-class instrument even more.
And, if that’s not enough, we also had the benefit of experiencing, live, the music of another great musician, Shawn Colvin, whose expert vocals, top-notch guitar playing, and creative and inspiring musical compositions made us instant fans.
We arrive inside the beautiful Count Basie auditorium, just in time to see area guitarist, Jack Petruzzelli, take the stage and begin to strum his instrument as Joan Osborne, 55, enters to excited applause.
Looking sultry and sounding powerful, Osborne opens her set with Bob Dylan’s 2001 composition, “High Water (for Charley Patton).” On this number — Dylan’s update of a Charley Patton blues song — through her emotional vocal performance, Osborne spins a yarn about a variety of problems which confront modern society.
With her soulful, bluesy sound — softly growling at times, but always expressive — she croons, “High water risin’/Risin’ night and day,” as the audience cheers for her mid-song. Singing like the emotion is coming from deep within her soul, by the end of the piece, the crowd rewards her with ardent cheers and applause!
Picking up her guitar, Osborne exclaims, “Hello, Red Bank! How are you all doing tonight? I’m so happy to do this show for you!”
Letting the audience know about her newest recording, Joan Osborne Sings the Songs of Bob Dylan, she reveals that her set tonight will primarily explore the melodies, harmonies, and poetry which constitute the Bob Dylan songbook.
Next up is Dylan’s 1964 composition, “Spanish Harlem Incident.” Singing, “I am homeless/Come and take me/To the reach of your rattling drums,” Osborne’s expressive vocal blends perfectly with Petruzzelli’s falsetto harmony line — both sounding crystal clear thanks to the Count Basie Theatre’s high-quality sound system, top-notch audio engineering, and a sonically-supreme listening space.
Osborne starts her next number off by softly strumming her guitar, eliciting audience applause as soon as the crowd recognizes the familiar strains of the introduction. Launching into a lovely version of Dylan’s 1962 classic, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” audience members can be heard humming along as Osborne sings such lyrics as, “Look out your window and I’ll be gone/You’re the reason I’m travelin’ on/Don’t think twice, it’s all right.”
During the performance, the audience shows how much they love the guitar solo by New Jersey native Jack Petruzzelli with even more cheers and applause.
lntroducing her next piece as “the biggest hit single Bob Dylan ever had,” Osborne goes on to concede, “but we changed it up a little.” Here, she performs a Dylan tune which reached #2 on the U.S. charts in 1966, “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.” Her sultry voice bending as she sings the famous lyric, “Everybody must get stoned,” Osborne makes this song her own as Petruzzelli’s electric guitar walks under her soft groove to audience members’ snapping and singing along.
Next, Osborne and Petruzzelli perform a buoyant rendition of Dylan’s 1966 ditty, “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.” As Joan shakes her hips while she sings, heads in the audience bop in time to the infectious groove created by Petruzzelli’s guitar, a pre-recorded rhythm track, and Joan’s bluesy voice. As the duo rocks out, audience members scream, “Whoo-hoo!” and “You go, Joan!”
After disclosing to the audience that she spent the day at the beach at nearby Sandy Hook with her daughter — and further adding, “I’m so relaxed,” as a result of her time spent here at the Jersey Shore — one audience member screams out, “You’re amazing!” to which Joan replies with a heartfelt “thank you.”
Moving on to a Dylan tune with a lilting old-fashioned feel, “Buckets of Rain,” Osborne’s voice fills the theater with joy as she sweetly sings, “You do what you must do/ And you do it well/ I’d do it for you honey baby/Can’t you tell.”
Next up is Osborne’s rendition of Dylan’s 1963 epic, “Masters of War.” On this number — just one of many highlight performances of this evening’s transcendent set — Osborne powerfully interprets Dylan’s lyrics singing, “And I hope that you die/And your death’ll come soon/I will follow your casket/In the pale afternoon/And I’ll watch while you’re lowered/Down to your deathbed/And I’ll stand over your grave/’Til I’m sure that you’re dead.”
The audience vigorously applauds at the end of this masterful performance for the feeling and soul of this song which Osborne makes universally clear.
In response, Osborne announces, “Singing these Dylan songs makes me feel like actors must feel when they do Shakespeare,” going on to further acknowledge, “There is a rich depth in this material.”
Moving on to yet another highlight of the evening, Osborne performs Dylan’s 1965 classic, “Highway 61 Revisited.” As her brilliant voice expresses the feeling of the poetry of this song, her hands tap, her tambourine shakes, her foot stomps, and her entire being tells the story of a diverse selection of individuals whose lives remarkably intersect “on Highway 61.”
Wailing at the end, Osborne gives the audience chills thanks to the emotional depth she is able to communicate as a result of her immense musical talent.
As Petruzzelli takes his place behind the grand piano, the duo performs Dylan’s 1989 composition, “Ring Them Bells.” Singing, “Ring them bells ye heathen from the city that dreams/Ring them bells from the sanctuaries cross the valleys and streams,” Osborne’s voice beautifully articulates Dylan’s poetry in this lovely song of hope.
Telling the crowd, “We have time for just one or two more songs,” the crowd responds with a resounding “TWO!” at which time Osborne explains that her next number will feature musical tracks she recently recorded with a live band in Denmark.
Firing up his computer, Petruzzelli plays along on with the pre-recorded tracks on his guitar to Dylan’s wonderful 1975 composition, “Tangled Up in Blue.” Osborne’s superb voice caresses the song and makes it fly.
Rewarding her with a standing ovation, for an encore, Osborne picks up her guitar and performs a compelling rendition of her own poetic 1995 composition, “St. Teresa.”
Her voice enraptures the audience as she weaves her story, yodeling at the end to cheers and another well-deserved standing ovation.
Following a brief intermission, Shawn Colvin, 61, takes the stage. With her acoustic guitar cradled in her arms, she charms the audience with her version of Paul Simon’s “American Tune.”
Sounding powerful and true, Colvin sings, “And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered/I don’t have a friend who feels at ease/I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered/Or driven to its knees.”
Following enthusiastic applause, Colvin — a gifted storyteller as well as musician — welcomes the crowd.
Moving on to a number she co-wrote with producer John Leventhal, 1996’s “Trouble,” Colvin wistfully sings, “I go to the trouble like a magnet/That’s where I’ll be/Trouble is just a place to sing/It’s what you need,” her top-notch guitar playing rhythmically propelling the song forward.
Likewise, her formidable guitar skills perfectly frame her expressive voice as she earnestly croons her memorable 1992 tune, “Polaroids.”
A highlight of Colvin’s set is her compelling rendition of her excellent 2006 composition, “These Four Walls.” Singing “I’m gonna die in these four walls/I had enough and I tried it all/I watch the daybreak and I see the night fall/In these four walls,” the audience is enveloped and transported in time and space to the place of the story and responds at the conclusion with excited cheers and applause.
Colvin tells the Basie crowd about a time back in 1987 when she traveled across Europe as a back-up singer for vocalist Suzanne Vega. After communicating her story with melancholy and kindness, she acknowledges to the audience the topic of a vast number of her compositions saying, “All of my songs are breakup songs. I try to change them up — some are fast, some are slow — but they are all ultimately breakup songs.”
Launching into 1996’s “Wichita Skyline” — a number ostensibly about a train — Colvin’s voice is dramatically breathy and light. As this Joni Mitchell “Coyote”-ish tune travels along, its rhythm perpetually chugs forward courtesy of her masterful rhythm guitar-playing skills.
Another highlight of Colvin’s set is 1996’s “Summer Dress,” a cinematic composition in which audience members vividly visualize events in the song. Stoically standing as she sings, “I put on my finest summer dress/So light and thin, it was my best/Brushed my hair/I held my breath/I went out to face the wilderness,” her expressive voice and accompaniment perfectly set the mood.
The audience hangs on to each and every word as Colvin continues to crescendo up to the soaring “Goodbye Mary-anne!” chorus.
Following fervent applause, Colvin tells the avid crowd, “This next song is about how scared I was about becoming a parent,” joking, “It could be another breakup song” before adding, “but I’m telling you — it’s about parenting.”
Here, Colvin performs her compelling 2001 composition, “A Matter of Minutes,” crooning, “If there’s one thing certain/It’s there ain’t nothing for sure/And I want to run/But I can’t do that anymore,” the ending dissonant chord striking the listener in the way bold, underlined, and italicized text often tends to do.
Reminding the audience, “I made an album of cover songs called Cover Girl, and my second album of cover songs was called Uncovered,” Colvin goes on to admit, “but I think it might be pretty cheeky to try to do a Bruce song right here in New Jersey.”
That notwithstanding, she performs an unplugged rendition of a number from Uncovered — Springsteen’s “Tougher Than the Rest” — her sweet voice and skillful guitar playing clearly endearing her to this Jersey crowd.
Revealing she needed to write one last piece for her 2006 album, These Four Walls, Colvin acknowledges, “The night before the recording session, I watched a television special on Martin Luther King, and I wrote this song about that show.”
Softly strumming her guitar, she performs her composition, “That Don’t Worry Me Now.” Singing, “Before you knew me/ An angel came to me/I wrestled him down to the ground/He said he could cure me/I said that don’t worry me now,” she draws the audience into the universe of the piece’s vivid poetry and enticing music.
Stating, “This next song is the ultimate breakup song because it’s a murder ballad,” Colvin performs her best-known recording, which not only achieved commercial success in 1997 by climbing onto the Top Ten of Billboard’s Hot 100 list, but was also a critical smash in 1998 winning Grammy awards for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
On this number, “Sunny Came Home” — a tale about a woman who burns down her house to escape her past — the audience grooves along to the unexpectedly upbeat sound of the music as Colvin gives a powerful performance via her expressive and soulful voice and rhythmic acoustic guitar accompaniment.
For her last number, Colvin exclaims, “I’m going to send you off with a happy one!” and finishes her set with her 1992 number, “Round of Blues.” Singing, “So wherever you go/You better take care of me,” the audience responds to Colvin with a cheering standing ovation.
Taking a seat at the grand piano, Colvin thanks the audience for their kindness and, for an encore, performs a cover version of Tom Waits’ “Ol’ 55,” singing, “Well, my time went so quickly,” after which she is warmly greeted with yet a second standing ovation.
As the crowd makes its way out of the Count Basie auditorium and into the lobby, we chat with several audience members who talk about their experiences regarding tonight’s concert.
Harriet from Lakewood says, “Shawn is so gorgeous and so personable — she really connects with people,” going on to note, “She’s so skilled at doing ’60s folk/coffee house music — a genre which is being reborn again today.”
Harriet also continues by adding, “And Joan was fabulous, too! I’m looking forward to getting her CD, Joan Osborne Sings the Songs of Bob Dylan — she does Dylan better than Dylan does Dylan.”
Likewise, Joe from Ringoes agrees, and posits, “I thoroughly enjoyed this concert — especially Joan Osborne’s interpretation of Dylan’s music; it was really nice to not have to listen so hard for the lyrics. Joan Osborne’s voice is very interpretative — very emotional — so much so, in fact, that I’m going to buy the CD.”
Mary Ellen from Fairfield, CT further agrees, declaring “Joan Osborne is just phenomenal — her voice is one of a kind,” before adding, “I didn’t know much about Shawn Colvin prior to tonight’s show, but I really enjoyed her songs — and her story-telling skills are amazing.”
And, lastly, Dave from Belmar reveals, “I really didn’t know what to expect tonight, but I was very impressed with the way Joan Osborne handled the Bob Dylan songs. I’ve followed Joan for 30 years — she has a great voice and great stage presence — so, all in all, I am truly impressed. I really enjoyed this show.”
And as for our opinion?
Seeing Joan Osborne and Shawn Colvin together in concert was a pure delight to experience in that all of the songs they presented featured colorful and expressive poetry set to music and were performed by two musicians of the highest caliber in a superior listening environment.
So do we still love Joan Osborne?
Our answer is a resounding “YES!” and, in fact, we’re already planning to see her again in a future Garden State performance.
But the icing on tonight’s cake is that we’ve now been introduced to a superstar of the Americana musical genre with whom we weren’t quite so familiar — Shawn Colvin — a performer whom we definitely want to see again as well.
So — bottom line — what’s our overall review in a nutshell?
“Two great talents. One great stage.”
For more information about Joan Osborne, please go to joanosborne.com. To learn more about Shawn Colvin, please click on shawncolvin.com. For further info regarding upcoming shows at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre — including Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds on Sept. 26, Don McLean with Pure Prairie League on Sept. 28, and YES featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman on October 8 — please go to countbasietheatre.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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