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Joan Osborne
Pretty Little Stranger
Vanguard Records

Joan Osborne is about to find out if there is life for her in music after her 1995 smash hit album Relish. Her 1995 alternative folk single and album catapulted her into the spotlight, but she has been floundering ever since the winds in her sails died down. She has turned a new leaf and moved on with her life, straightening her curly cue locks, signing with a new label, and moving into country music.

Her debut album with her new label Vanguard Records is entitled Pretty Little Stranger. The record is country music with an exponential factor. Produced by Steve Buckingham (Dolly Parton, Mindy Smith, Ricky Skaggs) the album features guests Alison Krauss, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, and Sonny Landreth. From soft country ballads to toe tapping mid-tempos, the album pays homage to country music's Americana and folk backgrounds. Opening with a country western mist on the title track, the album proceeds in that frame with bales of countrified riffs and pensive storytelling. "Holy Waters" is a vocal and acoustic guitar melody with shadows of Dido and John Prine. The sparseness in the melodic folds is filled with Osborne's vocal spreads. Her vocals cover distance as expedient as an opera singer, only more folk keyed.

The bluesy guitar phrasings on "Brokedown Palace" are soaked in Osborne's breathy vocals which carry a Bonnie Raitt inflection. The treatments of the slide guitar on "What You Are" skies across the melody making spokes of light. Osborne's songs rely on the slide guitar to enhance the décor of the melodies showing up on several tracks including "Dead Roses", where guitarist Sonny Landreth takes the reins and discharges spurts of upbeat pulses and dynamic shifts making it the most excitable track on the album. The massaging fingerpicking on "Shake The Devil" are engulfed in a country folk stylizing while "Time Won't Tell" has more of a bluesy mood with Osborne and Vince Gill's vocals harmonizing through the verses. The lyrical content is typical of a country soul with sullen phrases like "You never see the road you didn't take/ Never feel the love you failed to make/ To never know it could be your worst mistake/ Time won't tell."

The folk rock scope of "Who Divided" has an Annie Lennox boot kick in the groove giving the mid-tempo a hard edge in the infectious dance beat. The bluesy tone of the keyboards softens the stomp in the kicks. The tenderly brushed drum strokes on "After Jane" compliment Osborne's easy going vocal style and have a recurrent presences through the album along with the squeezing slide guitar hooks. Osborne displays a comfortable fluency in her vocals as the songs are fitted to her key.

Osborne's latest outing Pretty Little Stranger renders pretty country melodies gilded with the sleekness of her vocals. Many of the tunes are similar in scope to Jewel, Blaine Larson, and Julie Roberts, as Osborne concentrates on one type of vocal melody and country sound, but it certainly lands her in country music's stable. Maybe now her sails have recaptured a bit of that wind she lost.

-Susan Frances

Track listing:
1. Pretty Little Stranger
2. Holy Waters
3. Brokedown Palace
4. What You Are
5. Shake The Devil
6. Time Won't Tell
7. Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends
8. Who Divided
9. Til I Get It Right
10. Dead Roses
11. After Jane
12. When The Blue Hour Comes

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