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Joan Osborne makes Dylan’s songs her own

Joan Osborne says making "Songs of Bob Dylan,"

Joan Osborne says making "Songs of Bob Dylan," her new album, helped her understand in a visceral way his genius. Credit: Jeff Fasano

“It’s like when an actor does Shakespeare,” says Joan Osborne of her experience making “Songs of Bob Dylan,” her recently released album and the core of her acoustic performance at The Suffolk Theater Saturday night. “Taking a deep dive into the material, I’ve come to understand in a very intimate and visceral way why Dylan is such a great genius. Humorous, poetic, complicated and simple — everything is in his body of work.”

The multiplatinum singer and songwriter, who is perhaps best known for her Top 40 hit “(What if God was) One of Us,” had been playing for a while with the idea of doing her own take on jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald’s eight-album series interpreting the great writers of her day. When Manhattan’s venerable Café Carlyle invited Osborne to be one of the cabaret lounge’s resident performers, she saw it as the perfect opportunity to try out the concept. “Cole Porter is not my thing,” she explains. “I wanted to do something with an updated sensibility, and Dylan came to mind.”

As a young singer making the rounds on the downtown blues-rock club scene, Osborne says she didn’t have to go far to run into Dylan’s trail. “It was a stamp of approval to play in the same clubs. It made me realize that maybe this is real.” In 2003, their paths — and voices — crossed when Osborne joined the surviving members of The Grateful Dead and had the chance to perform with Dylan, their co-headliner, his moving classic “Tears of Rage.”

Along with familiar tracks such as “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and “Tangled Up in Blue” and deeper cuts from the album like the gentle, haunting “Dark Eyes,” Osborne will perform live-only songs not on her record. With a vast body of masterworks to choose from, narrowing her selections, she admits, has been difficult. “I wanted to touch on all eras, not just the 1960s and ’70s, but the ’80s and ’90s, too. Dylan put different versions of himself out there. I want the audience to hear old favorites,” she says, “but to also discover something they didn’t already know.”

To be sure, Osborne’s interpretations often give new dimension to Dylan’s already great songs. She considers “Highway 61 Revisited” a particular success. “It’s a big stompy song,” she says. “I went back to the lyrics, to its biblical imagery, and decided to incorporate the rhythms of the Middle East. It put an edge, a propulsion on it.”

Being a woman singing his anthems and ballads, Osborne notes, also changes them. “Though he had tenderness in writing it,” she says of Dylan’s reflective bluesy love song “Buckets of Rain,” “tenderness and sweetness are not in his voice’s arsenal. I am able to give it a different spin.”

WHAT Joan Osborne

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4 at The Suffolk Theater, 118 East Main St., Riverhead

INFO $49 to $69; 631-727-4343, suffolktheater.com

SUNDAY STREET: AFTERNOON WITH GARNET ROGERS

WHAT Also among the great interpreters and vocalists of today’s folk music scene, Garnet Rogers brings his virtuoso guitar-playing, soulful baritone and quick wit to Suffolk County this weekend as part of WUSB-FM’s Sunday Street series at The Long Island Museum. The Canadian legend intersperses his playlist — largely songs centering on unsung heroes — with extraordinary tales from his recently published memoir, “Night Drive,” recounting the early wild days on the road touring in a band with his late brother, Stan. Emotional and entertaining, an afternoon with Rogers is sure to be a great ride.

WHEN | WHERE 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5, at The Long Island Museum, 1200 Rte. 25A, Stony Brook

INFO $22 to $27; 631-751-0066, sundaystreet.org

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