Reteaming with Rick Chertoff and Hooters members Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman (giving lazy music writers a legitimate reason to still mention 1995's Relish in an Osborne album review) Joan Osborne’s Little Wild One is a good pop album for grown-ups. New York City has obviously had an impact on her and her creative team as elements of it frequently work its way into the lyrics.
“Hallelujah in the City” opens with a mandola and combined with Osborne’s voice gives the song a country gospel sound but then starts to rock in as the narrator moves into the city: “in the churches of Brooklyn/ underneath the Chelsea lights/ in the Battery Park, and up in Morningside Heights.” “Sweeter Than The Rest” is terrific love song because rather than joyful from having love or sorrowful by its absence the narrator honestly wishes well the one that got way, embracing Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “’Tis better to have loved and lost” sentiment because no one gets to be with everyone they ever loved. On a cover of Jay Clifford’s “Cathedrals” Osborne’s voice is exquisite, especially when paired with a piano at the beginning.
A series of love songs follows. On the title track, she keeps it just between the two of them and moves first by putting her “cards out on the table.” She makes her yearnings clear by stating “I need you like the air that I breathe/…I need you like you wouldn’t believe.” A drummer would have been a better choice than the hollow sound of the drum machine. In “Rodeo” a woman awaits the return of her man, a soldier, but wonders “what fighting has done to” him. The song has a modern country sound with rock flourishes. “To The One I Love” is a sweet soulful number. The narrator states, “To an honest man/ I could give my body and my soul” in part because “the bitter times have come and gone,” which is how she is able to love and to be loved.
However it’s not all passion and laughs. On “Meet You In The Middle” the narrator states, “We may fight most every night” and “The heartaches thrive” yet she hopes to make it work because “the love survives,” according to her, despite their pride and differences that place them miles apart. Osborne’s plaintive vocal and the mournful harmonica capture the emotion well, but the programmed omnichord thumping throughout is distracting.
With its beat and arrangement “I Can’t Say No” is a dance number. It’s about a woman who finally stops running away from taking a chance on love, and says something every lover wants to hear: “your touch is all I need.” Taking a step further toward a positive path in life and expounding upon Rev. Gary Davis’ similarly titled gospel song, “Light Of This World” is an uplifting number with Osborne providing her own background vocals. The album closes with “Bury Me On The Battery,” a fitting end that is sure to be played at quite a few funerals for New Yorkers with Osborne on guitar and Hyman on piano.
Joan Osborne certainly is a Little Wild One herself, shifting genres with each release to whatever suits her fancy, no doubt to the aggravation of label executives and a few listeners, but those who enjoy her voice are usually more than happy to follow her. Even with a couple poor choices in arrangements, the album is welcome addition to her catalog.