Pretty Little Stranger was my introduction to Joan Osborne. I know her first album came out back in 1991 and I have missed a lot. Perhaps now with this stunning introduction I will see my way clear to seek out more of her music. Grammy award winning producer Steve Buckingham (Dolly Parton) produced Pretty Little Stranger, with harmony support from Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, and Rodney Crowell. Osborne gives equal time to originals and covers with six of each. One thing I did not notice straight away was Joan's similarity to Bonnie Raitt on some songs, which really is no revelation to people familiar with her as she has worked with Raitt before in the past. Bonnie is one of my favorites so for me this was a pleasant surprise upon first listen.
The production and musicianship on this recording is nothing short of impeccable. Every time I heard this CD, I warmed up to it more. Its five spins and counting so far, with many more to come I am sure. Joan says that this is her country album; however, there is lot more to it than that. Rudiments of blues, rock, and Americana find their way into the mix throughout the 12 tracks. There is not a question in my mind that this is one of the strongest albums of the year. I would say there were around 15 titles in 2006 that I would put into the upper echelon of favorite listening experiences so that is few and far between considering how many I have heard this year.
The title track is an awesome way to kick off the proceedings with Joan sounding her down to earth bluesy best and there is so much more to come after that grand opening. The new radio single "Who Divided" is one of the catchiest tunes on the album, and it is a sure bet for a big crossover hit. I found myself singing along to this every time I heard it. The way the lyrics come flowing out, it would be difficult for any performer to do well. Osborne owns it and this phrase was the clincher every time for me:
Who divided up the days into hours?
They are brilliant lyrics indeed and they come across with passion and meaning with each instance. Another outstanding track is a Jerry Garcia song "Brokedown Palace." Osborne has worked with the Grateful Dead in the past so it comes as no surprise that she does such a heartfelt rendition of the track. This is a "grow on you album" and its hypnotic powers increase with each listen. I liked it when I first heard it and by the time, I gave a spin for the third time I loved it and could not get enough. Some albums just strike me that way and Ms. Osborne got me hooked without too much effort.