SOMERVILLE - There are very few, if any, musicians who can boast of a resume exactly like Joan Osborne's.
Following her 1995 breakthrough album "Relish," the Kentucky born rock 'n' soul mama flung herself far and wide, doing tours of duty with the post-Jerry Garcia The Dead, Motown's vaunted house band the Funk Brothers, and a study break with legendary Qawwali vocalist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
It took only a few minutes into her set at the Somerville Theatre Friday night to be reminded why she is the vocalist of choice for so many of her peers, as good taste, passion, and ability collided for one rousing evening. Osborne's performance also illustrated the trickle-down effect of all of those part-time gigs.
Whether doing weary justice to the Dead's "Brokedown Palace," conjuring up despair and resignation on the stone soul Manhattans classic "Kiss and Say Goodbye," or throwing a tremulous, Eastern-tinged wail into her own divine queries in "One of Us," she inhabited the moment.
The variety continued with Osborne and her nimble quartet navigating tunes that ran the gamut from gritty blues to glossy pop to gutsy gospel. Many came from her strong new album, "Little Wild One," for which Osborne reconnected with "Relish" collaborators Rick Chertoff and Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian of the Hooters. She closed the night with her lump-in-the-throat rendition of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love."
The singer made a point to thank the crowd for choosing to part with its hard-earned money given the economic turmoil. But when the hard rain is falling, Osborne's voice is exactly the kind you want to hear in the storm. There's something comforting about being wrapped up in a sound so big and soulful and believing, for about 90 minutes at least, that somebody knows what they're doing.
Osborne made an especially keen choice in opener Matt Morris. The young singer-songwriter comes with several modifiers - former Mouseketeer, son of country singer/Broadway star Gary Morris, Justin Timberlake buddy/collaborator - which vanish the moment he opens his mouth. Like Osborne, Morris is possessed of a mesmerizing vocal gift. With his gilded falsetto he impressed with a clutch of clever and poignant tunes and handled the feisty crowd with unruffled charm. In addition to his own performance, Morris joined Osborne for a rendition of Jump, Little Children's dramatic "Cathedrals," the nuanced harmonies of which had the earmarks of late night tour bus hootenannies.