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Published: 2001/11/21
by Brad Weiner

Ash Wednesday Blues – Anders Osborne

Shanachie Records 5744
Each year in Denver there is a festival held in the bustling section of
downtown called LoDo. For about twelve bucks you can rally hour-long sets
from a puddle of great musicians. A few years ago I left the stage with
Medeski, Martin and Wood to see Chicago apparitions the Freddy Jones Band.
This turned out to be a big mistake because immediately after MMW, a Swedish
guitarist named Anders Osborne played a set. I heard all about it at school
and regretted my inability to be in two places at once. Osborne’s name
vaporized from memory until a copy of his newest release "Ash Wednesday
Blues"
landed in my mailbox a week ago.
The cover photo features the young Osborne severely bending a note on a very
abused Fender Stratocaster that looks like the classic Clapton model. When
you
flip the disc over it shows a group of people partying and dancing in the
crowded streets of New Orleans. There is a self-serving but accurate
description of the album at the top that yells "A Mardi Gras of blues
groove evoking bayou hoodoo and Crescent City Soul".

If that doesn’t make you run to your CD player, I don’t know what will. It
took
only a few seconds of play to realize what I missed so many moons ago. The
first tune is titled Stoned, Drunk and Naked. Its explosive
funk-driven guitar
lick and hovering Hammond B-3 make it an instant party anthem. Osborne’s
band
is solid at blending the funk, blues, rock and jazz of the Big East into a
unique gumbo just spicy enough to be from the bayou. Cyril Neville of Meters
fame is the percussionist, and we all know that where there’s a Meter
there’s
a smile.
"Ash Wednesday Blues"’ true gems are the slower, bluesy ballads like
Kiddin’ Me
and Stuck on my Baby which features blues maestro Keb’ Mo on banjo.
Other
guests include Charlene Howard on vocals, and guitar whiz Johnny Lang who
lends his massive sound to five of the album’s tracks including my personal
favorite Soul Livin’.
The lyrics often lack complexity, but Osborne makes up for them by using
pure
unbridled soul. His voice releases the raw energy of a back porch blues
session. There are a number of impromptu shout-outs to his band like "play
it
Jim", "one time," and "you got soul, Kirk," referring to Kirk Joseph, the
band’s sousaphone player. Apparently, they had no trouble bringing the
improvisational spirit from the streets into the studio.
Me and Lola is a feelgood, major-key ballad that has a seventh grade
mix tape
quality. Osborne has the ability to write emotionally fulfilling tunes with
simple ingredients. Like most great music, an amateur could learn the
chords,
but never replicate the feeling. Some are born funky, others are not.
Anders Osborne delivers on his promise. He brings the spirit of Mardi Gras
to
any house, in any city, at any time of year. "Ash Wednesday Blues" is a
guaranteed trip to the crowded streets and cultural curiosities of a city
that
will party and play music until it sinks an inch at a time into the silt
delivered by the Mississippi.

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