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Joan's arc

In praise of the underappreciated Joan Osborne

Trigger Hippy at Brighton Music Hall.
Trigger Hippy at Brighton Music Hall.

I recently went to see a band called Trigger Hippy at a concert hall in Boston. As a band, they are not well known. In fact, the band members actually haven’t been a band for very long. But there’s a good chance music fans will know at least some them. The rhythm section features Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman and bassist Nick Govrik, the guitar players (both are multi-instrumentalists) are Nashville session player extraordinaire Tom Bukovac and the amazing Jackie Greene, and the vocalist is Joan Osborne. Yes, that Joan Osborne.

It certainly was not by happenstance that I went to hear this band. It is well-documented in past issues of Modern Acoustic my appreciation for all things Jackie Greene (see Issue 28). Trigger Hippy, as a band, flat-out rocks behind the dueling, soulful vocals of Osborne and Greene. The musicianship here is off the charts. The show was exhilarating and every bit as awesome as I had hoped.

But, following the show, the thing that stuck with me the most was how amazingly underappreciated Joan Osborne is. Yes, her name still carries some gravitas. Heck, she is a 7-time Grammy-nominated singer.

There she was, about 6 feet in front of me in this small club outside Boston and she’s ripping it up, with these amazing vocals, dancing around, smiling, and really looking like she’s having the time of her life… and yet I expect that for most of the country, she might as well be the subject of “Where Is She Now?”

Most people know her for her big hit “(What If God Was) One of Us,” which made a huge splash in 1995. There were a host of women artists hitting it big around that time: Jewel, Fiona Apple, Paula Cole, Sarah McLachlan. Lilith Fair spurred the movement on for a few years, and then it died out.

Just look at the names above. Many of them are still making great music, but they aren’t really in the spotlight anymore.

At least for Joan, it seems to have been a personal choice. According to many sources, in an 2001 interview during her appearance on Austin City Limits, she talked about her decision to reject stardom, and how happy she was to get out of the limelight.

And look what she had done since: In 2002, she got her “soul” back. That’s a bad pun, but her appearance in the documentary film “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” and subsequent tour with the Funk Brothers perfectly suited for her voice.

Then, a year later, she surprisingly surfaced fronting the remaining members of the Grateful Dead, following Jerry Garcia’s death, followed by a couple stints with Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s band, cementing some new fans among the Deadheads. I mean, if you want to get far away from the mainstream, join a band of aging hippies, right?

And in 2007, she finally released an album that completely fit her soul music style, “Breakfast in Bed.”

And now, her current gig (even it’s only part-time because of each of the band members other commitments) of fronting a gut-wrenching soul-rock band gives her the space to show off her amazing, underappreciated voice.

And she doesn’t have to worry: this band – no matter how good – will never make a ripple on the national pop music scene.

Where is she now? Right where she belongs.

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