That Joan Osborne would record a straight-up soul record is probably years overdue, particularly since the finest moments of her studio output (going all the way back to her self-released blues records and running through last year’s little-heard Pretty Little Stranger) are those on which she wraps her husky voice all the way around a complex phrase. She’s in fine voice throughout Breakfast In Bed, her debut for Time Life, but the inclusion of her two phenomenal covers from Standing In The Shadows of Motown at the end of the collection actually highlights the album’s shortcomings. On “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted” and “Heatwave,” Osborne’s vocals are uninhibited and raw in the style of the best soul singers, and those performances, which on their own make the excellent soundtrack to Standing in the Shadows of Motown worth seeking out, are made even stronger by the spirited arrangements that support her. In contrast, then, Breakfast In Bed is nothing if not restrained, with barely-there rhythm sections and with its horn and strings sections both smothered entirely too low in the mix; were Osborne to let loose vocally, she’d completely overpower the music. Her choices of cover tunes are fairly obvious genre picks (“Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Midnight Train To Georgia,” complete with stand-in Pips, and the title cut), so Osborne is hamstrung by Tor Hyams’s production, which keeps her from really sinking her teeth into these standards. It’s to Osborne’s credit as a writer that the best of her original tunes (especially the sultry “I Know What’s Goin’ On”) hold up alongside such canonical material as “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination” and “Kiss And Say Goodbye.” Both as a writer and a vocalist, Osborne has the chops to record a killer soul album, but this tasteful-to-a-fault effort isn’t it.
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