"I feel like an actor must feel doing Shakespeare," singer-songwriter Joan Osborne tells Billboard of her new cabaret show of Bob Dylan songs. "There's a timeless nature to the material."
Osborne, who acknowledges she's not a typical cabaret singer, has covered Dylan before, on her albums Relish and Righteous Love, but she calls this show, "the first time I've been able to do a deep dive into the material." She adds, "It's phenomenal how his songs seem like they could be talking about what's going on in the world right now."
The show's a precursor to an in-the-works album of Dylan covers, which Osborne says she hopes to get out before the summer (select Europe and North American tour dates are set for this spring). Osborne's show opens at The Carlyle Hotel in New York City Tuesday (Feb. 28) and runs through March 11. In the midst of rehearsals, she spoke to Billboard about her song choices and how she plans to reinterpret Dylan.
Rainy Day Women 12 & 35
"We've been messing around with a bluesier version of 'Everybody Must Get Stoned.' I've been listening to this band from the '90s called Morphine that had this drums, bass, sax, late-night New York City vibe, and we've been trying to filter that song a little through that lens but also drawing on the blues stuff I've done myself."
Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)
"Sometimes you just have an instinct about something. My co-producer Jack Petruzzelli came up with this sort of gospel version. We've been listening to an Edwin Hawkins Singers album that had 'Oh Happy Day' on it. It just gives the song a different energy -- it's a very lighthearted song, and people know the Manfred Mann hit version of it, but something about doing it in a gospel way gives a depth to the lyrics and you hear them symbolically in a way you might not on the Dylan original or the Manfred Mann version."
Ring Them Bells
"We try to bring up songs people are not as familiar with as well. There's a beautiful song called 'Ring Them Bells' off the Oh Mercy record -- a gorgeous, gorgeous song. I think the last time I performed it was at a benefit in 2002 for the families of firefighters who lost their lives in the 9/11 tragedy. Something about this song seemed to really talk about that loss but was a way to share a strength going forward. There hasn't been another moment in our national life since then that it was as appropriate to bring it back as the moment we're in right now. It's really striking a chord with me; sometimes it's hard to get through performing it without busting out crying.'
I'll Remember You
"There's some Dylan songs that are very tender, beautiful love songs. 'I'll Remember You' is off a little known record of his called Empire Burlesque. I saw him do it in this film called Masked & Anonymous that came and went years ago -- he and his band perform a version of this song that really seared itself into my consciousness, and I've wanted to do it ever since. Again it just has an additional resonance for the time we're living in."
Tangled Up in Blue
"We're doing a Memphis soul version that's really cool. To do it from the perspective of a female voice has been very fun. His version is more of a straight up folk storytelling kind of thing, but there's a sensuality about this Memphis soul style that I think gives it a bit of a different flavor."
Highway 61 Revisited
"We do a pretty radically different version of that. We put this kind of almost Arabic tempo on it and some instrumentation gives it a kind of Middle Eastern vibe which kind of gives an urgency to the song. The Dylan original has more of a blues vibe. Without coming right out and saying it, it's using this Biblical imagery the song uses but putting it in the context of the culture that's from the actual area those things in the Bible occurred in. We're trying to hang on to the lyrics and let the clarity of the poetry be the real guide. When you have that to hold onto, if you take some liberties with the melody, it's all right."