If Joan Osborne were one of us, she might have known that snowshoes were needed this week in Duluth.
But she’s just another famous vocalist who came to Minnesota on the bus to sing the songs of our most celebrated living songwriter, Bob Dylan.
In fact, in late 2017, Osborne released an entire album, “Songs of Bob Dylan,” and that was the focus of her two-night stand this week at the Dakota in Minneapolis, to be followed by an appearance Thursday at Dylan Days in Duluth, where it snowed last weekend.
In her 95-minute performance Tuesday, Osborne did an admirable job of surveying Dylan’s catalog, covering songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘90s.
Performing both famous and lesser known numbers, she did them her way, which meant bluesy or with a Southern soul vibe.
Backed by stand-out pianist Keith Cotton and guitarist Jack Petruzzelli, Osborne reimagined “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” in a distinctive downbeat blues groove. The trio treated “Highway 61 Revisited” as a herky-jerky acoustic blues, fueled by Cotton’s intense piano and Osborne’s two tambourines.
Cotton’s embellishments with extra notes and colors redefined “Tangled Up in Blue,” which ended with Osborne’s soft cooing. His pounding piano passage punctuated “Masters of War,” which Osborne pointed out is as timely now as it was when it was written in the 1960s.
The 56-year-old singer encouraged the full house to attend a concert by Dylan, who still tours regularly.
At least when she sings his tunes, all the lyrics are understandable, though Osborne’s voice sounded a little tired and weary at times Tuesday. With her pushing herself hard on “Gotta Serve Somebody,” she took on a scratchiness that suggested Stevie Nicks.
While Osborne's interpretations were appealing, they lacked the radical reinvention of Dylan material that R&B stylist Bettye LaVette displayed on her 2018 Dylan tribute, "Things Have Changed," and her performances at the Dakota.
Promising an album later this year, Osborne offered two new unrecorded originals, neither of which was particularly memorable. However, her encore of “Spider Web” (after an audience member requested “the Ray Charles song”) and, of course, her career-making “One of Us” brought her most committed vocals and the evening’s biggest cheers.
Osborne will perform again at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Dakota and at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Sacred Heart Music Center in Duluth, Dylan’s birthplace, one day before his 78th birthday.