The singer tells EW why that's fine by her
Joan Osborne
Credit: Danny Clinch

Following rumors of a bitter stalemate between Joan Osborne and her label Mercury, Osborne has revealed to EW that she is no longer a Mercury artist. She got the news in late December: ”Mercury called my manager and told him they were dropping me from their roster,” she says, adding, ”I was kind of aghast.”

Mercury declines to comment, but, in truth, the label’s move didn’t come as a complete shock to Osborne, who admits relations had been rocky for some time. Her personal dissatisfaction has been growing since Mercury was restructured last year, resulting in the departure of many of her key allies: ”Let’s just say that I had really liked it when [ex-Mercury chief] Danny Goldberg was running things, and liked it less so when he was gone.”

And, apparently, the feeling was mutual. Osborne confirms Mercury nixed a version of her second album, the long-awaited follow-up to her multiplatinum ’95 debut ”Relish” (although her manager, David Sonenberg, had denied this to EW last month). The rejected disc was produced mostly by Cracker’s David Lowery (Osborne also recorded with T-Bone Burnett and Spin Doctors drummer Aaron Comess). ”I turned it in to my A&R person, Rick Chertoff, who [had] signed me and produced ‘Relish,”’ says Osborne. ”He didn’t think it would fly, so that was a sticking point. I was sent back to the drawing board.”

Chertoff — who has since left Mercury — did not return calls for comment, but Lowery speculates that the label was looking for another ”One of Us,” Osborne’s ’95 pop smash, and wasn’t pleased by the hard-rocking direction her songs were taking. ”I knew she was bummed out by her relationship with the label,” says Lowery. ”I think they totally misunderstood her as an artist. She’s a great rock female voice, a down-and-dirty, ballsy singer, and they wanted her to do poppy VH1 stuff.”

According to Sonenberg, Osborne is about to sign with a new label. And she’s currently completing a final mix of her album with producer Mitchell Froom in L.A. (working title: ”Curds and Whey”). She’s ”really happy” with it: ”I listen to the stuff I did before, and the stuff I’m doing now with Mitchell, and this is better.” Any bitterness about getting dropped? ”I feel like it was this great gift,” she says. ”I can make a fresh start. It’s really kind of exciting.” Still, the suggestion that she cover ”Mercury Poisoning” — Graham Parker’s 1979 kiss-off to his and now Osborne’s former label — elicits a hearty peal of laughter from Joan. ”Oh, man,” she says, savoring the thought. ”Oh, man.”