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RED-HOT JOAN OSBORNE, AN ACCIDENTAL STAR WITH A LOT TO SAY

Singer-songwriter Joan Osborne, 31, has seen her career skyrocket this past year with the release of her album "Relish" -- a soulful, engaging mixture of blues-based songs, ballads and straight-ahead rockers.

Her hit, "One of Us," speculates about what would happen if God were wandering in our midst. The hard-edged "Right Hand Man" shows off her frank sexuality.

Osborne, who appears Wednesday at Rochester's Auditorium Center, began performing more than six years ago after moving to New York from Kentucky. She slowly built up a loyal group of followers, and began releasing albums on her own record label, Womanly Hips.

While "Relish" (Mercury Records) continued to climb the charts, Osborne began her first national tour last summer, opening for Melissa Etheridge.

During the early part of this year Osborne continued to tour with Etheridge across Europe. She then flew back to the States to attend and perform at the Grammy Awards show. "Relish" and Osborne had garnered several Grammy nominations, but won no awards.

With only about three weeks off to rest, Osborne has hit the road again for a national tour -- this time as the headline act -- that has begun in New York and Canada; she appeared in Toronto earlier this month. Osborne is finding time for few interviews these days. The one that follows was conducted in 1995 before her rush of fame hit.

Her tour will end in California this summer and Osborne will begin work on her fourth record, which will be released later this year or early next year.

When did you first know that you had a love for music?

"Well, it's sort of been with me all my life. I've been singing along with records, with the radio, and singing choir since I've been little. It's only been since I've moved to New York from Kentucky, and started to discover the whole scene of what was happening with the blues clubs, that I was able to really dive into it and get involved to the extent that I have been involved. It has always been something that has been in the back of my mind, that I've always enjoyed doing but that I've never thought about seriously as any kind of career, because I didn't know how, really."

Q. How did you make the connection to your music?

A. It was pretty much an accident that I ended up getting involved in singing, the way that I have been involved in it.

I moved to New York to go to film school at New York University, and I had run out of money and I was working at two jobs just to try to go back.

I discovered these open mike sessions at this bar and I kind of got into that. I guess the thing that really impressed me about it at the time was the fact that singing is like the complete opposite of film, because with film you always have a long process, from the initial idea to the finished product. You have a lot of different people you are working with, there is a lot of different machinery and equipment that is always coming between you and your filming, and it is all very necessary, but it does tend to be a little frustrating.

Whereas with singing, you open your mouth and there it is. And it's not that you don't have to work at it, but it is a much more immediate, organic kind of thing, and that is what has swept me away with singing and music. It is more of an immediate emotional engagement with your audience than filming, which is more intellectual and there is more of an intellectual distance in that process.

Q. Did your parents or siblings have any influence on you as you were growing up regarding your music?

A. Not really. My parents met when they were both singing in the church choir, so that is where that strain of music comes from. We only did a little bit of singing around the house together. It wasn't like this image some people have of growing up in Kentucky, sitting on the back porch playing banjo a hundred miles an hour. It wasn't really like that. I think my family influenced me in a lot of other ways, obviously, just in making me the person that I became. And coming from a very large family, which I think gives me a grounding and that sort of common sense that maybe a lot of other people were not fortunate to have gotten. But music, not really. I've kind of carved my own way.

Q. With your background education in film, what kinds of future music videos will you be producing?

A. I could see myself directing at some point. Right now it's a little more pressure than I want to put on myself, because there are plenty of other things that I have to deal with. But I always have visual ideas that correspond to the songs, and I can see maybe in the next year or so taking those ideas and trying to make a video with them as a director.

Q. What kinds of other creative productions would you like to be involved in or see done?

A. Well, I'm producing a gospel record with a gospel singer named Bethenia Rouse and she will be singing on it. I will be doing some singing, but mainly producing the album.

Q. Do you wish to add anything else to what you have already said?

A. I would like to talk about the fact that I am strongly pro-choice and I have done a lot of pro-choice benefits. My music gives me a lot of courage in my life and it taps into an energy source that you can use in a lot of other things in your life.

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