Joan Osborne has championed the Bob Dylan songbook for three decades. Osborne’s debut, the triple-platinum “Relish” from 1995, is best known for the megahit “One of Us.” But one of the album’s standout moments came with her understated but intense reading of Dylan’s “Man in the Long Black Coat.”
“I chose this song partly because the characters and atmosphere in it are so compelling, and I felt that it fit with some of the other songs that we had written,” Osborne said ahead of her Wednesday stop at the Wilbur. “Also because the story it tells was particularly meaningful to me at the time. It’s about a young woman who runs off with this dark, mysterious figure, and no one knows why, and she doesn’t say goodbye.”
Osborne’s admiration for Dylan came to a head last year with the release of “Songs of Bob Dylan,” a set of 13 songs that range from obvious to obscure. (Listen to “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” and “Dark Eyes.”)
“I know that people are most familiar with his work from the 1960s and ’70s, but some of my favorite Dylan songs come from the ’80s, ’90s and beyond,” she said. “I wanted to include some things that even Dylan fans might not know about.”
Osborne has extended her Dylan celebration to her current tour. Dubbed Dylanology, the trek features two sets of her muse’s catalog with a full band and guests New Orleans guitarist Anders Osborne (no relation) and pedal steel wizard Robert Randolph. (“You can expect some high intensity guitar battles,” she said.)
The idea for the tour and album came out of a set of weeklong residencies at New York City’s Cafe Carlyle in March of 2016 and 2017. At the small club, she honed her Dylan homages, never trying to repeat her inspiration, but always trying to do something fresh and curious with each song. The work has been so enjoyable, fans can expect similar projects from Osborne in the future.
“This album in particular was inspired by something that Ella Fitzgerald did in the 1950s,” she said. “She released a whole string of records called the Songbook Series, and each album was dedicated to one particular writer like Cole Porter or Duke Ellington. I always thought that was a brilliant idea, and always wanted to do my own version of it. So if I have my way, this Dylan record will be the first in a series.”
But the next installment will have to wait until her Dylan infatuation is sated. Right now her band needs to figure how how to fit a couple dozen classics and deep cuts — from “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Tangled Up In Blue” to “Ring Them Bells” and “High Water” — into one show.
“We’re busy cooking up our setlists now, and this band is in peak form, so I’m really looking forward to it,” she said.
Joan Osborne, with Anders Osborne and Robert Randolph, at the Wilbur, Wednesday. Tickets: $37-$59; thewilbur.com.