Joan Osborne Acoustic Duo
The Coach House
San Juan Capistrano, CA
October 21, 2010
"This is going to be a different kind of show," announced Joan Osborne as she took the stage on October 21 at the Coach House in the coastal California city of San Juan Capistrano. Accompanied by only one other musician, pianist Keith Cotton, she said she was excited to play the songs she usually performs with a full band, "but we’ll get to do them in a different way."
With the patient dinner crowd nicely warmed up by local songstresses Alyssa Jacey and Sasha Evans, the acoustic duo was able to transform the vast openness of the Coach House, with its long dining hall tables, into an intimate cabaret for the evening. They took us through each stop of Osborne’s career, with songs and stories from 1995’s debut, Relish, to her latest release, Little Wild One, and a few new treats that have yet to be recorded.
Osborne opened the set with the classic, "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)," which she recorded on her first album of R&B covers of the same name. "Rodeo" from Little Wild One followed with Osborne transporting us back to a time of cowboys with yodels that fit the Western décor of the room, which came complete with paneled walls adorned with signed black-and-whites of musicians who have played there throughout the years. The raucous tone of "Rodeo" gave way to one of an introspective nature for a moment as Cotton switched from Nord keyboard to grand piano and Osborne donned a black acoustic guitar to strum bass chords for an otherworldly and chill-inducing "St. Teresa."
After two unreleased new songs, Osborne broke free into the set, playing song after song and telling the stories behind each: "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," and Bill Withers’ "Ain’t No Sunshine," from her time working on the soundtrack to the movie Standing in the Shadows of Motown, and Billie Holiday’s "God Bless the Child," the first song she sang live in a NYC bar many moons and albums ago. Woven in between soul classics were classics of Osborne’s own: "To the One I Love" and "Spider Web," a jazzy, up-tempo blues number about meeting Ray Charles in a dream and receiving a life lesson from him.
With such a career retrospective show, I wondered if Osborne would bring up her tour with The Dead and/or Phil Lesh and Friends from years past, and she did with a preceding reflective personal story of a "magical moment" at Red Rocks where "everyone was mesmerized," even Osborne herself, during a particular song.
"I’m going to try to recreate that moment for you now," she avowed, and with light piano accompaniment, she treated all in attendance to a heartfelt rendition of "Stella Blue" that had the room transfixed on her in the spotlight. The great thing about Osborne is that although she is in the light, it is the music that always comes through, sparse but powerful, clear and precise.
Her voice had diminished to a gravelly but sultry growl by the end of the set but before departing would top it off as many would predict, by saying simply, "Now it’s time to play the hit," before she launched into a slow-tempo "One of Us." The duo returned for an encore, a very sexy and rousing version of "Help Me," from her debut album.
Amongst other things, this night made it clear that Osborne has clearly grown from pop songstress to a soul singer with a rich history and deep respect for the American catalogue, to which she has now contributed quite a few gems of her own.