Joan Osborne: Relish Mercury/Blue Gorilla 526 699-2

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The Independent Online
Going against all the rules that in recent years have dictated how female American musicians should present themselves, Joan Osborne is the first genuinely significant new talent to appear this year. It's rare to encounter an artist who arrives quite so fully formed, with all the roots and branches of her influences on open view, but channelled with such a confident sense of her own originality.

You'll doubtless already have experienced difficulty trying to get the chorus of her debut single "One of Us" out of your head, so effective is its haunting melody when applied to the drily ironic tone of the enquiry, "What if God was one of us? / Just a slob like one of us?". That track does, however, give a slightly misleading impression of Osborne's true nature, which is rooted in the blues and borne on an impressively soulful voice - more Bonnie Raitt than Sheryl Crow. Equally at home inhabiting the dark shadows of Dylan's "Man in the Long Black Coat" and the lusty strains of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me", Osborne was discovered after a chance open-mike encounter at a late-night blues club, whereupon producer Rick Chertoff put her together with the same team of musician / songwriters (notably guitarist Eric Bazilian of Eighties' American popsters The Hooters) that had worked so well for his previous great success, Cyndi Lauper.

Together, they've come up with a gem of an album, one that combines the dark, thorny business of the blues with the slicker appeal of pop, but without sacrificing the authentic sensibility of either. The opening track "St Teresa" sways in on the lonesome twang of mandolin and berimbau, before blossoming into a genuinely moving apologia for a drug-addicted prostitute; at the other end of the emotional scale, "Right Hand Man" renovates a Captain Beefheart riff for the album's most openly lustful outing. In between are songs detailing a broad range of human experience, including the brooding "Pensacola", about finding one's father living as trailer- park trash, and the friskier "Spider Web", in which she dreams that Ray Charles has regained his eyesight but lost his voice.