Pretty Little Stranger

Pretty Little Stranger

5.0 3
by Joan Osborne

Anyone familiar with Joan Osborne's exemplary body of work knows she's never been too far removed from the country world -- the Kentucky native has never tried to hide her Bluegrass State drawl, but she's never dug this deep into rustic and New Traditionalist-style country. Produced by Steve Buckingham (architect of Dolly Parton's bluegrass triumphs) and backed by a… See more details below


Anyone familiar with Joan Osborne's exemplary body of work knows she's never been too far removed from the country world -- the Kentucky native has never tried to hide her Bluegrass State drawl, but she's never dug this deep into rustic and New Traditionalist-style country. Produced by Steve Buckingham (architect of Dolly Parton's bluegrass triumphs) and backed by a stellar lineup of Nashville-based virtuosos, Osborne delivers uniformly powerful performances on songs she penned (six in all) and on covers from the likes of Beth Neilsen Chapman, Kris Kristofferson, and others. A trio of Texas giants named Rodney Crowell, Roy Orbison and Will Jennings, whose melancholy beauty "When the Blue Hour Comes" inspires Osborne to one of her most nuanced, heartbreaking performances ever. But Osborne's own songs are as good as any here. She gets into a low-down, funky groove on "Who Divided," a thumping howl protesting love gone wrong; articulates both fury and fatalism with an eloquence worthy of Rosanne Cash in title track, a song rich in twang and foreboding atmosphere; and digs deep for a mesmerizing, folky confession "Shake That Devil." Her version of the Grateful Dead's "Brokedown Palace" traverses some rich gospel territory, and her countrypolitan treatment of Kristofferson's "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" evokes no one less than Patsy Cline. One of the great voices of her generation, Joan Osborne can sing anything; but if she wants to hang around country for awhile, so much the better for the music -- and sophisticated listeners.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
Pretty Little Stranger is Joan Osborne's Vanguard Records debut; it is also her country and Americana record. She's cut soul and R&B, she's sung with Stevie Wonder, the Funk Brothers, the Grateful Dead and Phil Lesh & Friends, fronted the Holmes Brothers (and she's produced their finest record to date), had one of the hugest hits of the '90s (that has been a millstone around her neck ever since), and just dug into just about every area of American music. Country, given its steady high profile popularity in the current consciousness, seems like a logical step. Pretty Little Stranger was produced by veteran and Grammy winner Steve Buckingham. The song selection is terrific. Osborne wrote six of the album's songs, and she covers Kris Kristofferson's "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends," Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter's "Brokedown Palace," Patty Griffin's "What You Are," Beth Nielsen Chapman's and Harlan Howard's "Time Won't Tell," the Red Lane/Larry Henley number "'Til I Get It Right," and Rodney Crowell's "When the Blue Hour Comes," (co-written with Roy Orbison and Will Jennings; Crowell guests on the track as a harmony vocalist). Other guests include Sonny Landreth, Alison Krauss, and Vince Gill. Those are the particulars. The laid-back approach Osborne takes on this set is radical, a shock to the system even. With that big, ringing, soulful, bluesy voice, she's chosen understatement in the face of the great trend in modern country toward female singers who express themselves in that way -- check Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town, Gretchen Wilson, and Danielle Peck to name four. Osborne's instrument is a natural for the music, in theory at least. The record is not tailor-made for the CMT or GAC channels perhaps, or even country radio for that matter, but it sounds like there is another theory at work here. Osborne's showcasing her own songs on this record. Just as the late Lowell George's Thanks I'll Eat It Here was a singer's record, Osborne's Pretty Little Stranger is a songwriter's record. It's true that she may be too subtle in her approach on songs like the Griffin, Crowell, and Chapman/Howard cuts. She does a fine job of re-reading the Garcia-Hunter number because "Brokedown Palace" should have been a "real" country song in the first place. Her version of Kristofferson's classic "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" has little of Brenda Lee's drama or Rita Coolidge's deadpan grace. What it does possess, however, is the matter-of-fact hangdog directness that the songwriter intended. While it remains to be seen what Nashville will do with Osborne's record, it hardly matters. The production techniques used by Buckingham are for posterity; in ten years, Pretty Little Stranger will sound as contemporary as it does right now. Osborne's less aggressive approach suits the material very well, even if there is less distinction between some of the songs than there has been on her previous recordings. There is one number that does dig into the singer and songwriter's garden of roots and branches, and that's the slippery "Who Decided." Its electric piano, backbeat strolling guitar, and big snare underscore Osborne's funky, soul strutting voice. Even if the refrain is closer to contemporary Nashville, the tune itself is gritty; bluesed-out and utterly real. She swings and swaggers in all the right places. When the Hammond B-3 kicks in, it's easy to hear Osborne's R&B roots shining through in the sultry darkness and the brokenness in the grain of her voice. This is the voice of want, pain and thwarted desire. She follows it up with the glorious "Holy Waters," a pure country song that brings her into the terrain of true greatness as a gifted songwriter. Ultimately, Pretty Little Stranger is very good indeed; it is still not the record this gifted vocalist and songwriter could make, but it's solid, bittersweet, and crafty. It's a winner that keeps its best secret for last: that most of the best songs on this little platter are Osborne's.
Entertainment Weekly - Beth Johnson
Terrific and timeless. (A-)
San Francisco Chronicle - Lee Hildebrand
"Pretty Little Stranger" presents the Kentucky-born vocalist using her glowing alto pipes to penetrate the emotional cores of a dozen country-imbued songs.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Vanguard Records


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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Joan Osborne   Primary Artist,Background Vocals,Vocal Harmony
Alison Krauss   Vocal Harmony
Rodney Crowell   Vocal Harmony
Steve Gibson   Electric Guitar
Sonny Landreth   Slide Guitar
Eddie Bayers   Drums
Steve Buckingham   Acoustic Guitar,Electric Guitar,Tambourine
Dan Dugmore   Steel Guitar,Lap Steel Guitar
Paul Franklin   Steel Guitar
Vince Gill   Vocal Harmony
John Hobbs   Hammond Organ,Wurlitzer
Carmella Ramsey   Vocal Harmony
Michael Rhodes   Bass
Dan Tyminski   Vocal Harmony
Reese Wynans   Hammond Organ,Wurlitzer
Charlie McCoy   Vibes
Tim Lauer   Accordion,Pump Organ
Bryan Sutton   Acoustic Guitar,Banjo,Bouzouki
Wes Hightower   Vocal Harmony
Tania Hancheroff   Vocal Harmony
Gordon Moat   Piano

Technical Credits

Rodney Crowell   Composer
Kris Kristofferson   Composer
Jerry Garcia   Composer
Roy Orbison   Composer
Robert Hunter   Composer
Larry Henley   Composer
Steve Buckingham   Producer
Neal Cappellino   Engineer
Don Cobb   Mastering
Tony Daigle   Engineer
Patty Griffin   Composer
Will Jennings   Composer
Red Lane   Composer
Marshall Morgan   Engineer
Joan Osborne   Composer
Georgette Cartwright   Creative Services Coordinator
Eric Conn   Mastering
Chip Matthews   Digital Editing

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