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Where it all comes full circle

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For Joan Osborne, her career has returned to its roots

BANGOR When she was a 19-year-old student studying filmmaking at NYU, Joan Osborne spent her summer break on Mount Desert Island. Invited by a friend who said there were plenty of jobs there, Osborne ended up working the summer in one of Maine's most popular destinations during its most popular time of the year.

'I had an amazing summer on Mount Desert Island,' she said in a recent interview. 'I had a waitressing job and worked at a bakery there in Southwest Harbor, and I was a cashier at a lobster restaurant in Bar Harbor. I love it there.'

While it was only for one season, the singer and songwriter said she's been back several times since to perform at the Stone Mountain Arts Center and along the Kennebunk coast. And this weekend, she makes a trip to Bangor to perform at Husson's Gracie Theater on Saturday, Nov. 5.

Although she thought she was going to be a documentary filmmaker, Osborne gained a love for music during her early years while growing up in Anchorage, Kentucky. It was during junior high school that a turn in the school's choir would set the foundation for her musical career. Recalling the five-part harmony choral pieces her music teacher would challenge her with, little did she know then that the choir would be her proving ground.

'I had an amazing music teacher, a woman named Carolyn Browning,' she said. 'I think it was great because she saw that we were able to do that and she didn't let us off with something too easy. We really respected her for that.'

Today, the 54-year-old singer and songwriter still belts out a variety of tunes that have defied any genre, and she does so in a smoky, soulful style that has been her signature since her first album in 1991. Yet the success she's gained over the years takes a back seat to what drives her today a passion for music that knows no bounds and a restlessness that allows her to experiment beyond anything she's done before.

'I certainly have tons of respect for people who are genre' artists and people who stay within the same artistic traditions. There are so many people who are carrying forward all these great American musical traditions,' she said. 'I just never really saw that as my particular mission. I always felt like I loved so many different kinds of music that I couldn't limit myself to one.'

Osborne, who now lives in New York City, admits that such a varied musical calling may not have been the best move commercially, but for her, it's not what her career has been about. Instead, she draws from a lot of different styles to write her own music and create things that are unique and much more personal.

'I feel artistically it has been very satisfying because I just have this need to try different things,' she explained.

But commercial success did come when her first studio album, 'Relish,' peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 chart in 1995. The album's hit single - 'One of Us' - reached No. 2 in the Top-40 pop chart. With over 3 million copies sold, the album earned her an Album of the Year nomination at the 38th Grammy Awards in 1996, losing out to Alanis Morrisette's 'Jagged Little Pill.' Still, the single carried on a life of its own and eventually became the theme of CBS's 'Joan of Arcadia' drama series in 2003.

And while commercial success has shown Osborne a side of the business most artists strive for, she's quick to point out that such success comes with its own set of problems. For her, that was a period when the music itself was overshadowed by the commercialization.

'I would never regret having the kind of success that I had in that moment when the song 'What If God Was One of Us' was a big hit. As an artist and as a creator, that was an incredibly gratifying thing to have happened,' she said. 'But when you're in that position, you end up spend a lot of time selling yourself and presenting yourself as a product. I ended up feeling that it got in the way of actually doing the thing I love doing and the thing I was supposedly known for.'

With eight studio albums under her belt her last, 'Love and Hate,' was released in 2014 Osborne feels the music business today has less to do with selling CDs and downloads and more to do with getting in front of the crowds. Live performances are how most musical artists make a living today, and for her it's what she loves the most.

'In a way, it's come back full circle for me because I started out playing in clubs and really love to be a live performer and the excitement and interaction with the musicians and the crowd,' she said. 'For me, it's just taken me back to the thing that I love the most about doing this. I love live performing, so the fact that I have to depend on it to make a living is not a bad thing.'

For her performance on Saturday, she promises an acoustic set with longtime musician Keith Cotton, who has been performing with her for about 10 years. While she'll perform many songs from her own albums, she also wants to do a few Bob Dylan covers as she's currently working on a Bob Dylan tribute album. She may even throw in a few Grateful Dead tunes, as well as some songs from her current group Trigger Hippy.

'We're going to do a pretty intimate show. It's going to be nice mix if different things,' she said. 'With intimate shows, you can hear the songs and hear the music in a much more subtle way.'

(For more information or tickets to her upcoming show on Saturday, Nov. 5, visit The Gracie's website at gracietheatre.com.)

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