Right around the time that thousands of inebriated Eric Church fans realized that the weather gods weren’t going to smile on them, something completely different was brewing inside The Bear’s Den at Seneca Niagara Casino.
Instead of subjecting ourselves to the cruel intentions of a June evening rainstorm, those of us in attendance received shelter from the storm via the smoky blues styling of Grammy-winning artist Joan Osborne.
Despite being known for her 1995 mega-hit, “One of Us,” Osborne has shed all commercial trappings in favor of sophisticated crooning reminiscent of a 1930s blues chanteuse. She has reinvented herself as a sultry songstress whose power lies in her ability to make an age-old approach crackle with contemporary vigor.
Her latest release, “Bring It On Home,” is a collection of classic blues and soul revamped to resonate with 2012 audiences, and, judging from the reception on Friday night, the material is achieving just that.
Leading off with a song first made famous by Ray Charles called “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” Osborne tore through 90 minutes of her finest work, and asserted herself as one of the most underrated performers working today.
The fact that Taylor Swift and her army of overzealous tweens sold out First Niagara Center in 2011 and Joan played to a less-than-full room at the casino is inexplicable, but my guess is that the audience wouldn’t have sacrificed the venue’s intimacy for anything.
Each song was given a stripped-down interpretation aimed at penetrating the very essence of what makes live music swing, and the combination of Osborne’s endless allure and Keith Cotton’s exceptional piano dabbling is irresistible.
Set highlights include an electric take on Ike Turner’s feminist anthem “Game of Love,” a funk-infused version of The Band’s “The Weight,” and a luscious slice of heaven known as “Champagne and Wine,” taken from the catalog of Otis Redding.
The third star of the evening was a $3.99 iPod app that provided accompaniment for certain selections yet to be recorded, so evidence that technology can serve a viable purpose was on full display.
Osborne appeared unsure of the new material at first, but the raucous response that followed laid her apprehension to rest rather quickly. If you’re a fan of the blues, I advise you to pick up both her current and upcoming albums as soon as possible.
No Joan show would be complete without the song that broke her through, so I’m happy to report that “One of Us” still sounds as inspired and Neil Young-esque as it did upon its 1995 release.
Following one of the shortest breaks I’ve ever seen, Joan and Keith returned to the stage for a sublime “Tupelo Honey” that would make even Van Morrison stand up and applaud. I wondered how they could possibly match what we had spent the previous 85 minutes experiencing, but pulling from Morrison’s oeuvre did the trick.
If anyone at the show was unfamiliar with Osborne before, they certainly know what she’s all about now, which, in my estimation, is worthy of a hell of a lot more acclaim than she’s currently getting.