If you watch Anders Osborne perform, you'll see a man who's completely absorbed by the music. His vocals show as much soul as they can muster up. He'll close his eyes, strut, bob and weave his way around the stage and effortlessly tear off riffs on the guitar.
If you watch his right hand, it looks like it has a mind of his own against the body of the guitar and the six strings stretched out across it. He'll pick, pluck, strum or flick out the notes in a haphazard way, done in a fashion that's probably best described as "whatever is easiest." When asked if that is the case, Osborne lets out a long laugh. "Yeah, man," he continues to laugh. "Whatever the easiest way to hit a note is, that's what I hit. I'm trying to avoid the difficult notes as much as possible. I just want it to flow and I want to enjoy it. If I'm chopping wood the whole time, it's exhausting."
Osborne was introduced to plenty of jazz artists -- John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, Miles Davis -- while growing up in Sweden. His father was also a touring jazz musician, but his own music is steeped in New Orleans blues and heartache. Combine that with years of traveling around the world, and it's difficult to pinpoint his style in any kind of summation. Pull up his latest album, American Patchwork, in iTunes and it pops up under the country genre -- which is a far stretch. "That seems awfully wrong," he comments by phone while on the road in Connecticut. "Someone needs to make a call and change that."
Osborne feels Patchwork is the culmination of his other work, and the direction his music will likely stay in for a while. "It connects the rock 'n' roll with the spirit of my youth with my experiences over the years," he says. "I think my music is a culmination of everything I've done in my life. I think this is the music I want to play. If I do something else, it'll be excursions of other interests at the time, but nothing major's gonna change. Then again, you never know. Maybe I'll play ballerina music on the next one."
Osborne, who is in his early 40s, says he took his time with the album and made sure that everything included is in there for a reason. Listening to the six-minute swampy, blues song "Darkness at the Bottom," you'd expect that it wasn't easy to rein in his solo -- a freeform jam that lingers, pulls, tugs and soars for nearly two minutes. "It can be very difficult in the studio to get the essence of solo sections," he says. "You just gotta get at point with everyone in the band so everyone is thinking the same thing and everyone is supporting each other and you reach your culmination and exit at the right time."
While Osborne's guitar skills are usually the highlight of his songs, he feels that singing and playing guitar has come naturally to him, and he wouldn't choose one over the other.
As for the lyrics of his songs, he sometimes leaves them open to interpretation. At the suggestion of his producer, Pepper Keenan (Down, Corrosion of Conformity), Osborne only gave hints and lines from his songs in the liner notes. "He edited my lyrics and put them in there -- there was no great thought behind it," he says with a laugh. "It's always good to listen to other people and have people's artistic ideas, creatively -- having friends help you out from a different point of view -- song arrangements, artistic ideas and all the little details."
The other recognized New Orleans musical persona on the album is Galactic drummer Stanton Moore.
"When I produce, and what I expect from someone producing my work, is absolute brutal honesty about what they're hearing and feeling," Osborne says. "In the center, it's gotta be me, since it's my stuff, but I need to hear from them what they're thinking -- repeating a chorus or changing the vocals. We're all good friends so we're open to ideas. They try to pull shit out of me that I can't do on my own. Pepper didn't play much -- he did more of the vocal stuff. I want them to do their thing though, too."
As for that style of performing, Osborne says he's generally at ease when he's on stage -- for the most part. It also helps to have a great band playing with you.
"There's a sense of comfort on stage, but there's definitely a discomfort just prior to getting on stage," he says. "Once you get up there, it's just a lot of fun, especially if you have great cats playing with you that know their shit. Basically you just lean on each other, have a great time and do what you do best."
Anders Osborne will perform at the Double Door Inn on June 17. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.