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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at MaineToday.com and a music writer for MaineToday.com and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at Mainetoday.com. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the WCHS TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.

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Posted: July 3, 2017

Joan Osborne gets tangled up in Dylan tunes on Saturday in Boothbay Harbor

Written by: Aimsel Ponti

 

Photo by Jeff Fasano

Photo by Jeff Fasano

If you think Joan Osborne can be defined solely by the 1995 hit song “One of Us,” think again.

I gave the Eric Bazilian-penned tune a fresh listen before I sat down to write this and still think it’s an extraordinary song that asks sincere questions. And I still can’t imagine anyone else singing it quite the way Osborne does. Truth be told, the entire “Relish” album, which is home to “One of Us,” is fantastic.

Image courtesy of the artist

Image courtesy of the artist

But that was a moment in time, and Osborne has since released seven studio albums and has an album of Dylan songs coming out in September. She continues to be one heck of a singer of both originals and interpretations of songs by other artists.

For originals, look no further than the funky title track of her 2000 album “Righteous Love,” or “Shake That Devil” from 2006’s “Pretty Little Stranger.” As for covers, she’s got a treasure trove, including Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need of Love Today,” Jump Little Children’s “Cathedrals” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

Her latest project might just be the best example of why Osborne’s career is still going strong and why I’m making a beeline to Boothbay Harbor on Saturday night. “Songs of Bob Dylan” has 13 tracks on it, including “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35,” “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven,” “High Water (For Charley Patton),” “Ring Them Bells” and a personal favorite of mine, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” It opens with “Tangled Up In Blue,” and I was won over before the “early one morning” line was over.

Here’s Osborne performing “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”

Osborne’s takes on these songs are vibrant, bluesy, daring, fresh, stirring and fantastic. Dylan’s lyrics are the paint and Osborne and her musicians are the painters. This record has given me access to Dylan’s songs, some of which are new to me, in a way that I truly love.

Osborne and I spoke by telephone, from her secondary farmhouse home in the Catskills Mountains, all about the Dylan album, including how the idea was born and how she chose the songs. We also touched on this being the 20th anniversary of the Lilith Fair music festival and, yeah, we talked about “One of Us.”

How did the idea first come to be to make the Dylan record?

The idea came from listening to a series of records that Ella Fitzgerald put out in, I believ,e the 1940s and 1950s, where she did a series of songbook albums. She would pick a particular writer and do an entire album of that person’s songs. People like Cole Porter and Harold Arlen and more of these American songbook classic writers, and I always kind of had it in the back of my mind that it would be cool to do my own version of that and pick more contemporary songwriters. So, this had been jangling around in the back of my mind for a long time when we got a call from the Cafe Carlyle in New York City, which is this famous Manhattan iconic cabaret room, and they wondered if I wanted to come and do a residency there. This was a little over a year ago. I thought, I’m not a cabaret singer per se, but maybe I could use this as a way to test out this idea of doing a songbook. This was before Dylan had won the Noble Prize for Literature. I just figured he would be a very good choice of a writer because, obviously, the quality of the material is the absolute highest, and there’s so many songs to choose from. We decided to do this residency and worked up a whole bunch of different Dylan songs. I had a real bout of nerves and didn’t know what to expect, but the audiences were really into it, and we had a great time, and it was really gratifying for me as a singer because I stared to feel, through the course of this residency, that we did what an actor must feel like when they’re doing Shakespeare. The material is so classic, and songs that were written 50 and 60 years ago seem like they’re speaking directly to the times that we’re living in now, and it gave me so much to work with; there was such richness there.

How did you narrow it down to the 13 songs that are on the record?

Some trial and error. There were songs that I knew that I wanted to do from the beginning. “High Water (For Charley Patton)” is from the 2001 “Love and Theft” album, which I think is a brilliant record and not too many people know about it. People usually know about Dylan’s earlier albums like “Blood on the Tracks” or “Highway 61 Revisited” or “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” but there’s so much great stuff in his later work, so I definitely wanted to pick some songs from the later records. One of my favorite Dylan records is an album called “Oh Mercy,” which came out in the late ’80s. The song “Ring Them Bells” is on that record and I wanted to try that one. We tried to come up with unique arrangements for some of them. I feel “Highway 61 Revisited” is an example where we kind of hit a nice sweet spot between finding a different way to do the song that still respects the source material but that is our own individual take. So that was another criteria, I didn’t want to just go back and straight up do an expected folk version of some of these songs; I wanted to try a new way to present them.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Lilith Fair, which you were part of. Have you been reflecting on that at all?

Honestly, no. It was a great thing. I still see some of the people that I met on that tour. We just did a show in Nashville with the Indigo Girls, and I first met them, I believe, on the Lilith Fair tour. I still have connections with people that I met, but I’m mostly thinking about what’s to come as opposed to that’s already happened.

Can you describe your current relationship with the song “One of Us?”

I think, first of all, it’s a relationship of gratitude because to have had success of that level, that was a hit song, not just in the United States but all around the world, and there’s a certain place that it took me in my career that I’m not sure I would have gotten to otherwise. So I’m grateful to have had that kind of success. Also, it’s a pop song, but it’s not your average pop song. It’s something that people connect with on a deeper level, and it’s asking them about their relationship with their spirituality. It tends to be something that causes people to dig a little bit deeper than your basic party song, so I think that is a cool thing to be connected to. I’m happy to perform it.

Joan Osborne

7:30 p.m. Saturday. The Opera House at Boothbay Harbor, 86 Townsend Ave., $35 in advance, $40 at the door. boothbayoperahouse.com

 

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