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Saturday, 10 October 2015

And there, at the back, banging on her tambourine, was Joan Osborne

My daughter  bought 'Relish' for me back in 1996. It's a fabulous album that has rewarded my endless replays, and Joan Osborne has become my favourite female singer. So I was terribly excited to find out, just before we left the UK, that she was on tour in the USA - and would actually be in Tucson, AZ, on one of the two days we were in the city visiting friends. Osborne was performing with Mavis Staples (with whom, I discovered, I share a birthday) at the Rialto, a downtown venue that was once a cinema. Think rows of folding seats. Not the plush upholstered kind (someone had sold those off years ago), rather the type you might find in a church hall or school gym. So the whole event had an old-fashioned feel to it - and so, to my great delight - did the backing band: Stephen Hodges on drums, Rick Holmstrom on guitar and Jeff Turmes on bass. Simple, powerful, effective. Three seriously able musicians who really rocked. They could do it all - hard, slow, loud, tender, raunchy - and did. In spades.

The big surprise for me, however, who has always thought of Osborne as a musical god, was that hers was in fact the opener and support act for the legendary Mavis. Joan was on first, and although the audience clearly loved her, it wasn't until Mavis finally appeared that they became seriously animated. Personally, I was cowering low in my seat. The very mention of the word Gospel in a musical context gives me the heeby-jeebies. I start seeing wild-eyed preachers wrestling with snakes, and moaning converts in river-drenched clothes swearing off the demon drink forever.

But back to Joan. For me, it was a little like watching someone like Van Morrison: just to sit and let that amazing voice wash over me was a huge thrill. She's well known for her range - from country to blues to soul - and we got the full works here: she gave us in rapid succession 'One of Us', 'Saint Teresa', 'I Don't Need No Doctor' and 'Shake Your Hips'. Wonderful stuff, all backed by that superb band of three. And then Mavis, who, I have to admit, is a hell of a performer (just don't ask me to describe her set: I do not have the musical language to hand). Joan came back on to share a version of - ha, the name escapes me (it escapes us both) - and then hung around the fringes of the stage for the last three or four numbers.

So there she was, far left, almost in the shadows, swaying her hips, rattling the tambourine and grooving along. She might have been 'one of us'. It wasn't what I'd imagined, but what the hell: I've seen her, been dazzled by her voice, and afterwards I had a brief few words as she signed my new CD (Bring It On Home).

Life is good - even though we're now in a Motel 6 in Santa Fe, on our way to Denver. There we drop the car, spend a day in the Mile High City, then take the train to Chicago and, with luck, an evening at Buddy Guy's blues club.

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