Relish can be a sharp, bittersweet condiment; it can also suggest a determined gusto to live to the fullest. Combined, these two images provide a good taste of Joan Osborne's major-label debut (the live Soul Show was self-released in 1992). Grounded in blues, soul, and gospel, the Kentucky native wields her gritty voice with personality and forceful presence, kind of Melissa Etheridge meets Sophie B. Hawkins with a splash of Jann Arden. Osborne's passion for life oozes from the grooves. There's an uplifting fervor to her material and delivery, as if every second, every note, was being individually savored. Key track "One of Us" sets the disc's optimistic tone.
A complete survey of Ravel’s piano music is an especially challenging prospect for any pianist. It is not merely that this sublime music frequently demands exceptional, post-Lisztian virtuosity. Beyond such dexterity is the fact that, as Steven Osborne observes in this recording’s booklet, the composer’s fear of repeating himself ensure that the lessons from one work can rarely be transferred to the next. This is not merely the aesthetic change from the nightmarish imagery of Gaspard de la nuit to the elegant neo-classicism of Le tombeau de Couperin. Ravel essentially re-imagined how to write for the piano with each significant work. Osborne is more than up to the task. The contrasting fireworks of the ‘Toccata’ from Le tombeau and ‘Alborada del gracioso’ (Miroirs) are despatched with relish, the piano exploding with power in the latter after a disarmingly impish opening. The Sonatine has a refined insouciance, while the love bestowed upon each note is clear. Then there are the numerous moments of sustained control, such as the shimmering opening pages of Gaspard. Sometimes changes of spirit occur effortlessly within a piece. Having been a model of clarity in the ‘Prelude’ from Le tombeau, Osborne treats the codetta not as a brisk flourish, but as if this particular vision of the 18th century is dissolving beneath his fingers.
Joan Osborne set the world on fire for a few minutes back in the '90s with her reading of Eric Bazilian's "One of Us," a single that dominated the charts for the better part of a year and continues to get radio play. The album, Relish, sold into the millions, making everybody and her brother (especially the folks at her label Interscope) think she was going to be a superstar. It didn't work out that way. Despite being one of the greatest R&B and soul singers around (before she played in the big leagues she issued a few independent recordings on her own Womanly Hips label that offer stellar proof of this), she got her rep as a pop singer; worse yet, as part of the '90s wave of female acts who dominated the charts for a little while and was a part of the first Lilith Fair, while singing pop songs at half power no less. She recorded one more album for Interscope (which is owned by Universal).
What the world needs more of is intelligently planned, stupendously played, and brilliantly recorded collections like this one. These two discs contain all the piano works of Michael Tippett, works that come from every period of the composer's very long life except his very last. It includes the youthful, tuneful Piano Sonata No. 1 written between 1936 and 1938 and revised in 1941, the massive Fantasia on a Theme of Handel from 1941, the exuberant Piano Concerto from 1955, the experimental Piano Sonata No. 2, the gnomic almost Beethovenian Piano Sonata No. 3 from 1973, and the gnarly post-Beethovenian Piano Sonata No. 4. It features a bravura performance by pianist Steven Osborne that makes the best case for all the music, no matter how outré or recherché its harmonic proclivities or rhythmic audacities.