First, the bad news: Anders Osborne’s latest album is highly derivative, and he does little more than channel early ‘70s Van Morrison. Now, the good news: Anders Osborne’s latest album is highly derivative, and he does little more than channel early ‘70s Van Morrison. Since the new Van can’t sing like the old Van, there’s something to be said for imitation, particularly when you can scat off into the mystic like this guy. There’s also something totally delightful about the Swedish ex-pat Osborne, long a resident of New Orleans, paying homage to the iconoclastic Belfast legend. Call it international chutzpah. Fortunately, he has the voice to pull it off, and, surprisingly, the songs to match.
The Big Easy musical influences that dominated Osborne’s earlier albums are toned down here, although a sousaphone still peeks through occasionally to make its presence known. What’s left are the songs, stripped down for the most part to a lean acoustic guitar, drums, and upright bass. Osborne’s seen some hard times personally, as has his adopted New Orleans, and he alternates between rueful and occasionally harrowing reminiscences of addiction, laments for his drowned city, and (to balance out the gloom) stirring odes to love, love, love, love, crazy love. “Down on Dumaine” is his version of “Cypress Avenue” – a soulful look back on a neighborhood now gone. “Oh Katrina” is the tour de force here, the hurricane personified as the age-old heartbreaker and homewrecker. It’s a song that can stand with similar statements from Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, Shawn Mullins, and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Otherwise, Osborne sings of his own wild nights and the Tupelo Honey who keeps him sane. He’s cooked up an altogether tasty gumbo of soulful blues, hard-won wisdom, and that impossibly great voice, magically conjured across the space of 35 years. “Between the hurricanes and the heartaches/My old heart is doing fine” he sings near the end of the album. As further evidence, he’s created one of the best albums of the year.