During the past half-dozen years, Anders Osborne released several albums for the Chicago-based Alligator label that were centered on heavy blues riffs, overdriven guitar, and lyrics of cathartic relief. Within these terrific records, as well, was some lighter fare in a vein that often recalled the era of ‘70s California singer-songwriter. On Spacedust & Ocean Views, distributed independently on his Back On Dumain Records imprint, Osborne has made an even more discernible stride in that lighter, quieter direction, rooted this time not in West Coast vibrations, but in his adopted hometown of New Orleans.
The intimate and patient “Pontchartrain” leads off this exceptional set with a placid portrayal of a sunburnt Osborne gone fishing. Underneath the sedate “Life Don’t Last That Long” runs a bassline slightly reminiscent of Sheryl Crow’s “Leaving Las Vegas, into a churning, homegrown “Lafayette,” as Osborne’s accomplished guitar work bubbles up through the second-line surface. Focusing less of the sonic impact of a layered crunch, instead Osborne weaves acoustic and electric strands in tones mostly clean. It’s one of a few clever move he makes as co-producer, (with Mark Howard), and shows respect for Crescent City pals like “Papa” Gros, Ivan Neville, and Mark McGraine who get to display their contributions spaciously. An idyllic day on the shore inspires “Cape Cod,” underscored by the affecting string arrangement and performance of violinist Stevie Blacke, while a surging, undulating “Wind” and balladry of “All There Is To Know” close a relatively warm and tranquil first half.
The reconciling blues of “Can You Still Hear Me” kicks-off side two and reveals a wounded, weary Osborne, convincing in its pain. “Move Back to Mississippi” retains the powered defiance that was so prevalent in his Alligator output, almost to the point of seeming like an outlier to the rest of the album’s repertoire. A self-evaluating “Burning Up Slowly” brings back the quiet as does “Tchoupitoulas Street Parade,” sighing in the resignation of gridlock.
Osborne plays both sides of the coin, getting aggressive on the front-end of “Big Talk” before a calmer, reflective shift leads to a pacified outro, ultimately choosing silence over the noise. Only on the final cut, “From Space,” does the music seem as psychedelic as the cover art depicting a baby sitting on a zebra on a beach. Spoken word statements from Rickie Lee Jones mark this celestial rumination, giving the album a peaceable, cosmic culmination, and a little something extra to ponder.
The hour that passes over the course of Spacedust & Ocean Views is much like the time between sunset and twilight. It has that glow, that opportunity to settle a day into night, to accept the good and bad of what was, and to ask what’s worth taking into tomorrow. It’s another beautiful, thoughtful achievement from Anders Osborne.