As a singer, Joan Osborne has one of those voices (along with Susanna Hoffs, Bonnie Raitt, and Brandi Carlile) that makes any song she interprets that much better. Where she has sometimes struggled, though, has been in writing original compositions worthy of her considerable vocal prowess and in finding a musical style broad enough for her eclectic musical inclinations. With Love and Hate, both of those obstacles have been overcome with room to spare.
Teaming up with long-time collaborator and friend Jack Petruzzelli, Osborne has crafted 12 tunes that reflect who she is as an artist and a woman—songs that are mature, but not aged; worldly, but not cynical. Further still, rather than trying to squeeze Osborne’s multi-layered artistry into a single genre, the duo has pulled colors from various styles—soul, pop, blues, jazz, and more—to paint a soundscape that actually encompasses all that she is. The album is alternately sexy and sassy, rough and ragged. And it’s all so well executed that it just flows with no forcing, no faltering.
Thematically, the songs on Love and Hate chase the pendulum that swings between those two extremes, touching on various points all along the way. Osborne has noted, “Love isn’t just one thing; it encompasses faith, passion, power struggles, humor, anguish, spirituality, lust, anger, everything on that spectrum.” And, so, she set out to explore the whole of it because that is, in fact, the human experience. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, after all.
Case in point: The deeply potent “Train” feels like a companion piece to “Crazy Baby” (from 1995’s Relish)—if not also “These Arms of Mine” (from 2002’s How Sweet It Is)—in that the storyteller is reaching out to someone who seems like they may well be stuck or hiding in a dark place. There’s beauty and love to be had over there on the other side, but it requires stepping out of that darkness and fear. The slow approach, the knowing compassion, the tender steadiness… those are tell-tale signs of a voice who knows of what she sings.
Before “Train” even arrives, “Where We Start” and “Work on Me” start the set with a formidable duo of sweeping orchestrations and slinky jazz, respectively, which harbor enchanting melodies that might well cause the listener to hit ‘repeat’ quite a few times. Like the opening track, the mesmerizing “Not Too Well Acquainted” also floats along on a cloud of lush strings. Further in, “Kitten’s Got Claws” pulls very few punches in its pointed, but measured tale of regret and vengeance. Yes, there’s a lot going on here, but it works because Osborne stands tall and unwavering at the center of it all.
For Osborne lovers who have been with her since the beginning, Love and Hate is particularly satisfying in that it delivers on—and extends—the promise made by her wonderful debut so many years ago. And fans earned from her various exploits along the way (Grateful Dead tours, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, etc) will also be pleased with what they hear.
This review originally appeared on PopMatters.