JOAN OSBORNE – Trouble And Strife

For almost everyone, Joan Osborne will be best remembered for her mid nineties hit ‘One of Us’, but her long career has thrown up so many other gems along the way. Even that mega-hit’s parent album, 1995’s ‘Relish’ featured far superior tracks: with ‘Spider Web’, she introduced the world to her sassy blend of blues and soul via an insatiable groove and sultry vocal and her cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Man In The Long Black Coat’, slowed down to a spooky crawl, ran rings around Zimmerman’s rather jerky original recording. Across several other far more neglected albums, Joan’s vocal talents continued to shine. ‘Dead Roses’, a particular highlight from her 2006 release ‘Pretty Little Stranger’, suggested she could rival Bonnie Raitt in the bluesy stakes; various cuts from 2012’s ‘Bring It On Home’ demonstrated her husky take on various R&B standards to great effect and 2017’s ‘Songs of Bob Dylan’ had plenty to offer anyone with a keen interest in different takes on a familiar back-catalogue. Wherever you choose to dip into Joan’s work, there’s something to enjoy…and always a nagging feeling that she should have been bigger. Perhaps her over reliance on other people’s material has hindered her being a star on a global scale, but there’s no questioning her vocal talent. However, none of her previous highlights are a match for her 2020 release ‘Trouble and Strife’.

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THE JAYHAWKS – XOXO

Stalwarts of the Americana scene, The Jayhawks have gone through a lot of changes over the years, both stylistically and in terms of line-up, but one thing that can usually be relied upon is their ability to release a great album. From their early records full of country influences, to the more commercial ‘Hollywood Town Hall’ from 1992, to the power pop infused ‘Sound of Lies’ and Byrds-ish ‘Rainy Day Music’, each record often borders upon essential listening. Even 2011’s slightly more downbeat ‘Mockingbird Time’ – marking the very brief return of founder member Mark Olson after a sixteen year absence – represented a band somewhere near the top of their game.

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TRAVEL LANES – On

In 2015, Philadelphia’s Travel Lanes released ‘Let’s Begin To Start Again’, a hit and miss album that mixed a few pop and power pop influences with several rootsier John Mellencamp, John Hiatt and Connells styled moods. A few wobbly vocals let the side down from time to time, but there were a few decent tracks to be found within. Five years down the road, their third album only offers eight tracks in a very succinct twenty nine minutes, but its concise approach very much suits the band. Compared to previous Travel Lanes works, ‘On’ is far more consistent in terms of quality.

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J. EASTMAN AND THE DRUNK UNCLES – No Capo Required

This Minneapolis based garage rock band is entirely unpretentious. At no point do these musicians stretch too far beyond their garage-ish musical limits – limits that are occasionally just a little too obvious – nor do they display any kind of ego. By their own admission, J. Eastman & The Drunk Uncles are rather shambolic. Still, a fairly loose and carefree attitude has got them so far and this third release works very much on a maxim of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Or in the case of the Uncles, it might even be “if it sounds a bit broke, let’s swill some booze and knock things about until they sound better.

True to their word, bits of ‘No Capo Required’ do indeed sound sloppy. That said, you’ll have heard sloppier…and sometimes from bands who actually genuinely believe they’re the very acme of musical perfection.

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