Ash Wednesday Blues

Anders Osborne

Shanachie Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Get your beads, Mildred, we're off to N'awlins for Mardi Gras. Polish up your yatspeak, relearn your tolerance for Cajun food, and take your Lactose, because we're gonna café au lait ourselves into insensibility. And while you're at it, fire up the CD player for Anders Osborne's new release, Ash Wednesday Blues, a love letter to and about New Orleans.

There are certain artists that are, at least to me, immutably tied up with one city or location. Jimmy Buffett hangs his parrothead in Key West, Marc Cohn will forever be Memphis for me, Styx belongs in Chicago, and now Osborne joins the list, tied forever in my mind to the Crescent City, the French Quarter, New Orleans. This is not slightly zydecized, sanitized, weakling music, but (as near as this Northern boy knows) some pretty real stuff. And you know what? It's pretty good. (Somewhat surprising, given Osborne hails from not New Orleans, but Sweden).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Osborne writes his own songs, and plays a pretty mean guitar too. (Don't go looking for stinging licks, though; on almost all of this CD, it's vocals, drum, and horns that get center stage). His band is good as well - as mentioned earlier, the percussion is in many ways what holds the CD together, and Cyril Neville should be congratulated for a hell of a performance. The guest performances are a who's who of young blues artists; Jonny Lang sings background on several tracks, and Keb' Mo contributes to two tracks. Ash Wednesday Blues isn't just blues, though; at various points, Osborne flirts with N'awlins jazz, rock, rockabilly, barrelhouse, Cajun, and balladeering.

Osborne rarely misses on this CD. Highlights include the raucous "Ho-Di-Ko-Di-Ya-La-Ma-Ma", which sounds like the background music for a Storyville madam's parlor; "Stuck On My Baby", with its spare, fine banjo line (played by the aforementioned Keb' Mo); the driving blues-rock sound of "Kingdom Come"; and the surprisingly poignant piano of "Ash Wednesday Blues".

When there's a problem, it's usually related to Osborne's vocals. "Every Bit Of Love" is a sweet song, and I suspect there's a personal reason it's on the recording, but Osborne sounds almost strained on it, reaching for notes. And I just couldn't warm to the Jimmy-Buffett-as-lounge-singer "Me And Lola", finding it unsuited to Osborne's voice. Next time, I hope he cuts loose a little more, because when he's on, he's on. He just tried to do a bit much here.

Go get yourself a case of the Ash Wednesday Blues. Throw Mildred in the minivan and head down for some beignets. It's worth the trip.

Rating: A-

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© 2001 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Shanachie Records, and is used for informational purposes only.