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Published: 2012/05/09
by Larson Sutton

Anders Osborne
Black Eye Galaxy

_ Alligator Records_

It might be a mistake to compare Anders Osborne, a New Orleans favorite, but still relatively undiscovered on a national level, and his new album, Black Eye Galaxy to the iconic and massively successful artists that seemingly evoke association. It might be a mistake because it could imply that his ten-song follow-up to 2010’s brilliant American Patchwork is an aspiring collection of influences, and that hits the wrong point in a very big way. This isn’t a record that admires those on the top shelf; it’s one that deserves space alongside them. The downbeat hammer of opener “Send Me a Friend” and middle-set “Black Tar” rivals the crunch of the mighty Led Zeppelin. His piercing solo on “Mind of a Junkie” would fit hand-in-glove on Neil Young’s classic On the Beach. The wah-wah wandering of the album’s opus and title track, the 11-minute “Black Eye Galaxy,” recalls the Grateful Dead at its cosmic outer limit. And, yes, the songsmith craftsmanship of “When Will I See You Again?,” “Tracking My Roots,” and “Louisiana Gold” could rest in the spiral-bound pages of Jackson Browne, John Hiatt, and Paul Simon’s notebooks, respectively.

Yet, one listen and it’s clear that this is, unmistakably, all Anders Osborne, on a song-cycle that avoids the concept album pretense, but maintains a linear thread and autobiographical tone. Those pleading lyrics searching for respite, rolling like the river that flows through his home state only to pour out into the ocean, home but now transformed into something even bigger, deeper, and more powerful, that snaking slide guitar slithering through the darkening Delta depths, and the time-tested voice that buries affectation in its purity and authenticity, all are on parade. Perhaps displayed best on the shifting, interrupted groove of “Lean on Me”/”Believe in You” whose fade-out solo and harmony backgrounds could go on for two days and still that might too short. Thankfully, the auto-tuner and Pro Tools correcting that permeate far too much of today’s music were left out of Osborne’s sessions at Dockside Studio with co-producers Warren Riker and Stanton Moore (Galactic) delivering an organic sheen to what sounds like live-in-the-studio cuts. Even the dubbed needle-rise exit on Tar and needle-drop intro of “Galaxy” signaling the literal hallway point of the album, and the Side One/Side-Two throwback of vinyl’s 1970s glory, feels appropriate as the record quietly brightens like a slow sunrise in its second five. Almost subliminally, it also reminds the listener of how and, perhaps more importantly, why listening to LPs was so enjoyable, before the days of the ubiquitous download.

“Dancing in the Wind” (co-written, along with “Black Tar,” with Little Feat’s Paul Barrere) and its harmonica intro will have a hard time escaping latter-day Young comparisons, but it’s “Higher Ground” that circles back to the Crescent City and seems to answer any and all of Osborne’s curious that may wonder just how he’s doing these days. With a gorgeous string arrangement seguing out of a church bell tone, any concern that this album closer would be too precious is alleviated as soon as Osborne’s voice enters, then joined by wife Sarah and daughter Rose. It’s the kind of finish that suggests this album is triumph of sorts for the 46-year-old, who, like his city, has survived some of life’s toughest trials, and is still here, resilient and renewed.

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