Joan Osborne | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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On her second album, Relish (Blue Gorilla/Mercury), Joan Osborne skirts reductive stylistic tags. Her remarkable voice has clearly absorbed plenty of influences--its sumptuous flexibility and fluidity reveal traces of low-bottom blues, swooping gospel, country yodels, and smoky soul--but thanks to an unusual melodic knack she flutters around stylistic conventions and lands smack in the center of a truly distinctive pop sensibility. Whether on the languid, gorgeous sprawl of "Pensacola" or the stomping, off-kilter tunefulness of "Right Hand Man" her music insinuates itself from within, exploiting familiar licks, riffs, and structures. The vocals that drape themselves over these friendly shapes are deep and husky--which, along with the blues quotient, explains why the press frequently compares her to Bonnie Raitt--but she complements their inherent edginess with an organic sweetness. Her sympathetic collaborators--guitarist Eric Bazilian and keyboardist Rob Hyman (the core of Philadelphia's quickly forgotten Hooters and part of the production team for Cyndi Lauper's nearly forgotten debut)--provide sharp, clearly articulated musical backing that avoids overdone blues riffs and solos in favor of a restrained pop sheen. Sometimes the album's production smothers things, but for the most part it only highlights Osborne's singing. Unquestionably one of the better "adult" rock albums of the year. Saturday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 332 W. Armitage; 929-5959 or 559-1212.

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