Anders Osborne is on a roll. The Swedish born but longtime New Orleans resident co-produced
the Contemporary Blues Album of the year and produced the Song of the Year of the
2012 Blues Music Awards. The album was Tab Benoit’s Medicine and the song was Johnny Sansone, “The Lord Is Waiting And
The Devil Is Too.” For years now Osborne has been known for his incendiary live
shows and intense guitar playing. Now comes his second album for Alligator–Black Eye Galaxy — which defies easy
classification as blues or rock or anything else.
This is a work of art-a throwback to the days before
corporations completely controlled and corrupted
media and culture. Corporations ruined radio and destroyed journalism with
their emphasis on marketability and focus groups and playing it safe. Hence,
most things now end up PR approved, homogenized and sound the same. Black Eye Galaxy is different. It is the
struggle of a man to survive addiction and find some peace and redemption.
The album starts with the heavy metal roar and bombardment
of “Send Me A Friend.” Then on the second track– “Mind of a Junkie”-there is
this lyric: “Please somebody save me from my crazy mind.” There is something you
will not be hearing anytime soon on Clear Channel. The song is melodic and
almost gentle until Osborne unleashes one of his signature passionate guitar
solos, which is reminiscent of something Neal Young would have done in his
early Crazy Horse days.
Both the third and fourth tracks are excellent and set the
listener up for something he is not expecting and that is the aural apocalypse
of “Black Eye Galaxy.” This is an 11 minute, 15 second powerhouse of writing, performing
and sinking into the depths of hell.
At about the four minute mark, Osborne starts a psychedelic several minute
guitar solo which reminded me of the best work of Jerry Garcia. The song might
be the most amazing song put on a CD since the Grateful Dead recorded Tim
Rose’s “Morning Dew” for their first album. But that apocalypse was nuclear;
this one is personal.
And just when you thought the album could not get more
intense and dark, Osborne switches gears completely on the last four tracks.
“Tracking My Roots” starts with a harmonica riff that could be from an early
Dylan record. He sings: “I curse this damn addiction that took all these years
from you and me.” At the heart of his salvation is the amazing power of love. The
last tracks are almost gentle and acoustic, showing that salvation and redemption are always possible in life, no matter how
hopeless it seems. The album concludes with a song co-written with Henry
Butler-“Higher Ground” -complete with strings and gospel inspired background
vocals. This album takes us on a harrowing journey from the worse of the
secular to the best of the spiritual.
Great art is not afraid to say something and take big risks.
And on each work he does, Osborne grows as an artist. We are lucky to get a
chance to witness this. The blues is about hard truth and healing. And to the
extent he covers both; you could say he is a blues guy. But not in any
conventional meaning of the word.
Back in the day, before soulless corporations somehow transformed
themselves into people and dominated everything on the planet, record companies
and publishers were willing to take chances and let their creative artists
grow, be it as songwriters or authors, even if it took time to build an
audience and they had to lose some money to do it. So kudos must go to
Alligator Records-a great if not our greatest-blues label for letting Anders
Osborne follow his vision, inspire us with his story and dazzle us with his
craft. Black Eye Galaxy is a great
album. For those of us who love music, it will be fascinating to watch where Osborne
goes from here. And he is somebody you need to see live if you get the chance.
DOWNLOAD: “Black Eye Galaxy” “Mind of a Junkie” “Dancing
in the Wind” TOM CALLAHAN