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Review: Joan Osborne at the Café Carlyle

by Photo of Paul Hansen

The acclaimed singer devotes a memorable evening to the songs of Bob Dylan

Review: Joan Osborne at the Café Carlyle

I have to admit, I was looking forward to the return engagement of famed singer Joan Osborne at the Café Carlyle last week. She had a very successful debut at the venue last year which I was fortunate enough to see. The show featured solely Bob Dylan's music and I remember that the effect of her warm performance acted as a nice counterpoint to the cold, wintry night outside.

Since that engagement a year ago Bob Dylan has of course won the Nobel Prize in Literature. So it was very fitting that Ms. Osborne in her return to the Carlyle would have another evening devoted entirely to the music of the fabled singer/songwriter. She referred to her new show as something of a celebration of Dylan 2.0.

Osborne's current set list demonstrated the eclectic nature of Dylan's songwriting, with stylistic elements of country, folk, rock and blues. Particularly memorable were renditions of “Quinn the Eskimo” and a very touching “You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” The lyrics for “Ring Them Bells” recalled John Donne's line, “Therefore, send not to know for whom the bells tolls, it tolls for thee.” Like many sophisticated artists, Dylan seems to be aware that shadows exist as well as light, and Osborne's encore of “Gotta Serve Somebody” seemed particularly attuned to the challenging times in which we live.

I have seen a number of descriptions of Osborne's singing as “soulful.” That word seems apt.  In addition to having a rich voice, she approaches both the music and lyrics with a committed and intelligent sophistication. The equal emphasis on the lyrics is obviously now particularly important as Dylan has been officially acknowledged as a literary force.

Osborne is accompanied by Keith Cotton on keyboards and Jack Petruzzelli on guitar. Stylistically their accompaniments are varied, and at times quite subtle and atmospheric. They also provide occasional background vocals.

In addition to being an acclaimed soloist, Osborne has also performed with Bob Dylan, and other such luminaries as Stevie Wonder, Emmylou Harris and the late Luciano Pavarotti. She also appeared in the Grammy Award winning documentary, Standing in the Shadows of Motown. In addition, Joan is currently recording an album Joan Osborne Sings The Songs of Bob Dylan. Based on what I heard at the Carlyle it should be a very memorable CD.

Upcoming engagements at the Carlyle include singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega who will be making her debut at the venue from March 14-25. In addition to hits from her 30 year singing career, she will also be performing songs from her new album inspired by the life of Carson McCullers - “Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers.” McCullers was obviously the author of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, as well as other noted literary works.

John O'Hurley, who played J. Peterman on Seinfeld in addition to having many other television and Broadway credits, will be making his Carlyle debut March 28-April 8. The title of his show is A Man With Standards and features songs from The Great American Songbook as well as recollections from his varied career, which includes a winning season on Dancing with the Stars.

And Woody Allen performs at the Carlyle every Monday evening through June 19 with the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band.

Joan Osborne is appearing at the Carlyle through March 11. Before the show began, I spoke with one of her fans who was sitting near me. He said that he had flown in from Chicago to hear her. At the conclusion of the show I asked him if he liked it. “No,” he responded. “I loved it!”

The Café Carlyle is located at 35 East 76th Street in Manhattan. 

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