On 1995's Relish, the album that made Joan Osborne a star, one of the highlights was a darkly soulful cover of Bob Dylan's "Man in the Long Black Coat." Osborne's take on the song was intelligent and insightful, and was an early indication of her abundant strengths as an interpretive vocalist. Twenty-two years later, Osborne has devoted an entire album to tunes penned by Dylan with 2017's Songs of Bob Dylan, and once again she demonstrates she has a real knack for bringing his words to life. While Osborne doesn't seem to be bent on radically reinventing the material, she certainly puts her own spin on these songs. Most people approach "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" as a goof, but Osborne gives the song a bluesy gravity that takes it to unexpected places, and her "Highway 61 Revisited" is slowed down and sounds like a hellhound is on the trail of the tune's protagonists. There's a real sense of heartache in "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" and "Tangled Up in Blue" (the latter performed without switching the genders), and "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" boasts a weary warmth missing from most recordings. (And her rich performance of "Dark Eyes" from the oft-criticized Empire Burlesque is a reminder that every Dylan album has at least one honestly great song.) Osborne can bring emotional depth to these songs without going overboard, and the strength of her instrument is impressive here, full of humanity and hard-won wisdom. The members of the studio band (anchored by Jack Petruzzelli and Keith Cotton, who handle most of the guitars and keyboards and co-produced with Osborne) also understand that restraint can be soulful, and they follow Osborne's lead beautifully. It's hard to blame anyone for thinking the last thing the world needs is more Bob Dylan covers, considering how many artists have so thoroughly tackled his body of work. But Osborne's strength and smarts bring something fresh to the 13 compositions on Songs of Bob Dylan, and it's a welcome reminder of the talents of both the singer and the songwriter.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming