Most artists who have a monster-hit debut album face the specter of a sophomore slump, a follow-up that simply can't match lofty expectations set by that first release.
Joan Osborne had a different problem: A record label that decided the follow-up to her 1995 multi-platinum smash "Relish," wasn't worth releasing at all.
"I've been trying to look at it as a positive experience," Ms. Osborne said recently in a telephone interview from Rochester, N.Y. "If they were not interested in doing what was necessary to put a record out, then it was definitely the wrong place for me...."
Osborne found herself in limbo. She couldn't please Mercury Records while maintaining her creative vision, but she couldn't leave because of contractual obligations. Eventually, Mercury solved the problem by showing her the door.
That decision left Osborne without financing, but she was at last able to construct the kind of album she wanted. The self-financed, radio-friendly result is titled "Righteous Love."
Osborne eventually landed at Interscope, which, ironically, swallowed up Mercury when their parent companies consolidated last year. She says she's quite happy to be with Interscope, where the staff is excited about working with her. But the lull between albums caused another scare: a potentially fatal loss of career momentum.
"Even though it was great to be able to be home and sort of have a life again, there was this nagging thing in the back of my mind of, 'OK, you've gotta be out there, people are gonna forget you' ... so it was definitely a weird time," she admits.
But now that she's been touring again, Osborne says, "there are days when I feel like there's been no momentum lost at all." Listening to the CD, one might wonder why she was worried.
"Righteous Love" picks up right where "Relish" left off. It delivers more of Osborne's slinky blues-pop voice and incorporates lessons she learned from the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, famed for his mastery of Qawwali, a throat-singing technique used in Sufi devotional music.
In addition to Eastern influences (most notably on "Running Out of Time" and "If I Was Your Man"), Osborne explores doo-wop and girl-group stylings on the title cut; a bit of gospel-blues in "Angel Face"; sinewy, growling blues in "Safety in Numbers"; and in her dynamic cover of Gary Wright's '70s hit "My Love Is Alive," some serious funk.
The most emotional song for Osborne, however, is the last of her album's 11 tunes. It's a cover of Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love," first popularized by Billy Joel.
"When I first heard that song, I was driving down I-95 [in Maryland] and something about it just grabbed me by the throat, and I started crying," she explains. "And I had to pull the car over to the side of the road.... It affected me so deeply. It's such a beautiful, pure song."
She gave no thought to recording it herself until much later. "I certainly love writing my own songs and recording my own songs," the soulful singer says, "but I also feel like doing other people's songs...." She finally realized, "I love this song so much. Why shouldn't I sing it, too?"
Osborne is delving into another major pursuit as well - she just launched her own Webzine, Heroine (www.heroinemag.com). With the tag line, "For Women of Substance," the inaugural issue featured her interview with Indigo Girls Amy Ray and Emily Saliers and actor Susan Sarandon about their political activism. While she's on tour, Osborne can't be involved in its day-to-day operations, but she has a small staff managing the site.
After a short United States tour, Osborne expects to spend part of the winter either touring Europe or performing more stateside dates. "It's all about the music right now," she says cheerily. "... I don't think you've heard the last of me."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society