Joan Osborne, Little Wild One (Saguaro Road Records, 2008)

Her days of significant commercial success may be long behind her, but Joan Osborne has kept quite busy over the past decade. The Kentucky native's latest album Little Wild One is a collection of songs thematically linked to her adopted home of New York City.

For Little Wild One, Osborne reunited with the same team of collaborators that helped make her debut album Relish a big hit fourteen years ago. Producer Rick Chertoff, guitarist Eric Bazilian, and keyboardist Rob Hyman were the creative nucleus of The Hooters in the eighties, but they gave big boosts to the careers of Osborne and Cyndi Lauper as well. The combination makes Little Wild One Osborne's most melodic album, outside of her 2002 album of soul covers How Sweet It Is, that she's done since Relish. Highlights include "Sweeter Than the Rest," a mid-tempo rocker propelled by a classic 12-string riff; the stately ballad "Cathedrals"; the upbeat rocker "Rodeo," which features Bazilian playing a hurdy-gurdy (which I'm pretty sure he hasn't done yet on a Hooters recording); "Daddy-O," a requiem for the old Coney Island; and the gospel-tinged closing song "Bury Me on the Battery," an ode to her favorite city.

In addition to the focus on New York, Osborne's lyrics revolve around her usual themes of sexuality and spirituality. The combination may seem odd, but Osborne has usually made it work very well on her albums, and Little Wild One is no exception. Osborne's primary selling point remains her voice, though. She's one of the few white singers who really understands how to sing with soul -- in fact, there's a long line of contemporary R&B divas who could learn something from her. She also studied Qawwali singing under the late Nusret Fateh Ali Khan. While she has made some half-hearted attempts to incorporate the style into her own on past albums, songs like "Rodeo" and "Can't Say No" mark the first time she's been able to make it work and not sound out of place.

Joan Osborne is another one of those performers who's always worth checking in with when a new album comes out. If people have stopped listening, it's certainly not a reflection on the quality of her music. Little Wild One continues her string of solid records, and hopefully she has plenty more to come.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

Joan and her touring band in the studio playing "Sweeter Than the Rest"

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