Little Wild One

Ever wonder how someone from a rural background but who migrates to extreme urban life balances out the culture shock? The first song on Joan Osborne’s Little Wild One hints at how she transitioned from Kentucky girl to New York City songstress. “Hallelujah” begins as a mandolin-strummed gospel ballad but becomes an electric rocker in a matter of bars. Sounding more like an Emmylou Harris number than a song from one of the 1990’s most proclaimed soul singers, Osborne holds back from the bellowing emotion she exhibited on her 1995 release Relish. Instead she opts for a more subdued approach that allows her to confess her unfaithfulness to but still undying love for her adopted home.

Much of Osborne attention on Little Wild One is centered on the bustling madness and spiritual life of New York City. Cultures blend in the metropolis and the musical styles represented on the release captures the mish-mash of the cities populace. Osborne name-drops locations around the city including Riverside Drive, Chelsea, Morningside Heights, Coney Island, Thompson Square, Brooklyn and ends with a hymn to one of the city’s most destitute areas, “Bury Me On the Battery.”

So here is the example of the urban life but where are the paeans to the rural beginnings? Osborne’s roots find form in the musical arrangements that feature church-like organ, lots of acoustic strumming, bluesy singing and soulful rhythms. "Can't Say No" provides a splash of world beat and "Rodeo" a dash of country-western. Osborne reteams with the players who brought you Relish but this is not a repeat performance. Rick Chertoff, Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian don’t attempt to recreate the atmosphere of Osborne’s breakthrough release. Here they offer crisp production and expert musicianship. Osborne has long been refining her delivery and she rarely evokes the raw passions of her early work. Instead listeners are rewarded with a seasoned singer who knows the power of the yearning note that feels ready to break free but then fades to resignation. Still the voice is clear as crystal and rich with power. There never seems to be effort in the notes Osborne sings.

Little Wild One doesn’t deliver a hit single on a par with “One Of Us” but what it offers instead is thoughtful songs and consistently sharp performances from the assembled cast.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)