Joan Osborne returned last week with Songs of Bob Dylan, her eighth studio LP and first tribute record that features brilliant covers and reinterpretations from the iconic bard’s revered canon. Below, EW catches up with the singer-songwriter, 55, about her new project’s inspiration and her take on Dylan’s controversial Nobel Prize award.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the idea of this tribute album come from?
JOAN OSBORNE: In the 1950s and ’60s, Ella Fitzgerald released a series of songbook records and dedicated each one to a different songwriter, people who we think of as being the authors of the Great American Songbook. I believe she did eight in total. And I always thought it would be a really interesting thing to kind of bring that idea up to date. When the Café Carlyle [in Manhattan] called me to do a residency last year, it gave me the idea to test that idea out.
When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature last year it stirred up a lot of controversy. How do you feel about his award?
The prize is given to poets and, if you look at it in that framework, he’s an amazing poet. He is as great a poet as anyone that we’ve produced. The lyrics are not necessarily straightforward. His songs have a mysterious quality to them and yet they evoke an emotional response. Like, “Visions of Johanna” or “Tangled Up in Blue” or things from 2001’s Love and Theft…they’re just beautiful.
Have you heard from Dylan about your covers?
People in his world know about the project and have given us a very positive reaction to it. His publisher was very helpful and said if you need anything from us, let him know. I don’t know that Dylan himself will ever listen to it, but maybe he will! I would be surprised. That would be really cool — if he liked it! [Laughs]