'I needed to speak out,' says Joan Osborne about her political new album

Joan Osborne never felt ready to get overly political with her songs but the last few years have forced her hand. In “Trouble and Strife,” her 10th studio album, she is stepping up and using her platform to delve into issues such as climate change, abuse of power, immigration and the chaotic state of the world. She will be introducing songs from this new album as well as crowd favorites from her breakthrough album, “Relish,” marking its 25th anniversary, and more at an outdoor concert put on by the Ridgefield Playhouse Oct. 17.

Andrea Valluzzo: You get really political on your new album.

Joan Osborne: It’s certainly the most political record that I have ever done. I didn’t really feel like I could write political songs in the past ... I was involved in other ways, raising money for organizations that I support. I never really put the politics directly into the music so much but these last handful of years, it’s just been a whole different kind of era. There’s so much corruption on display and there’s so many people in power who are abusing their power that I just felt like I needed to speak out and use whatever platform I had to talk about it.

AV: Tell us about your song, “What’s That You Say?”

JO: I find it really confusing and appalling we have gone from a nation that celebrates immigrants to a place that has decided to demonize these people. I wanted to address that in the song and talk about this character who is an immigrant who comes to this country and becomes someone who can contribute to her community and to our country at large. Speaking from a cultural perspective as a musician, American music is all about the mixture of the different people coming from different lands and those different musical traditions that they have brought with them and those traditions mixing together, creating new forms. That’s why American music is so vital and exciting.

AV: You spoke to an immigrant, Ana Maria Rea, and used her voice in your song.

JO: There were these musical interludes in the song and I kept hearing in my mind like a spoken word voice in those places like Elvis did sometimes. I thought why not give the mic to someone who has actually lived this experience? I got in touch with this organization called RAICES [The Refugee And Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services] that is working with people on our Southern border who are trying to navigate this really dehumanizing system that is in place. They introduced me to Ana Maria and she is the exact kind of person that this song is about. She came here from Mexico as a little child. That’s what you hear in the Spanish language portion of the song is her talking about her experience and also at the end where she says, ‘I know I have not had an easy life but it has prepared me to be the kind of person that I am now who is able to really give back to the community.’

AV: Your writing experience was quite different for “Trouble and Strife” than your usual style.

JO: Most of the songs were written in a four-day span and I have never done that before. Normally I am much more about taking a long time and probably procrastinating and worrying over stuff. This time I booked the musicians and I just kept putting off deciding what we were going to record. I knew I wanted to do some original songs so said I’m going to lock myself in a room and see what I can come up with. I did that and over the course of this writing binge, I wrote 13 songs. I think I was as surprised as anyone else I could do it. The songs themselves were much more direct and more about what’s going on in the world right now than any other songs I’ve written.

AV: How has music been a comfort to you in 2020?

JO: I do miss live performing for sure but I’m able to do a little bit of streaming stuff, a little bit of writing and also just listening to music. I’m at home listening to a lot more music that I normally do. Generally when I’m on the road, I don’t listen to a lot of music because I am doing it all day long because I want some silence. Now that I’m not on tour I’ve been listening to a lot more music and in particular a lot of jazz. That’s just been really calming and nice for me.