Anders Osborne, Orpheus and the Mermaids, 5th Ward Records
“The poet laureate of Louisiana’s fertile roots music scene.” Guitar Player
We probably know Anders Osborne for his rootsy, backwater-bluesy rock which has earned him a loyal fanbase, and for his collaborations with the likes of North Mississippi Allstars, Mike Zito and Tab Benoit. Orpheus and the Mermaids, though, sees Osborne in more acoustic, Americana territory, where it is, perhaps, easier to appreciate the strength of his song-writing.
In case you’re not familiar with him, Osborne hails from Sweden and has lived in Louisiana for many years. He tours incessantly, is a powerful live performer, and as well as his own shows, he has performed with a host of well-known blues and Americana artists, the likes of Keb’ Mo’, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, and Jackie Greene. His songs have been covered by Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Tab Benoit, Jonny Lang, and Kim Carnes, and have appeared in films and TV shows.
Orpheus and the Mermaids, his 17th album, is a nine-song offering of Anders Osborne originals, a record he says he’s really proud of and which “turned out even better than I had hoped and imagined.” The album was conceived amidst the mayhem of the pandemic in 2020 and Osborne said that he “started writing these tunes all about the stifling realization that it’s all really fragile. I can’t take anything for granted. Each day I need to wake up with more gratitude than I’ve practiced before.”
It’s a great title for an album – Orpheus was a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in the myths of ancient Greece, considered the best exponent of the lyre, with the ability to charm animals and make trees dance. Anders Osborne as modern-day Orpheus? He’s certainly got the guitar chops and song-writing skills.
Both of which are in evidence in this new album. The songs are all very strong both musically and lyrically. Jacksonville to Wichita, one of two singles, gets things off to a strong start, with some cool harmonica over the strummed acoustic guitar. It’s got a lovely laid-back feel and with lyrics like “a juke box that only plays Townes Van Zandt,” and an oh-so-mellow acoustic guitar solo, you know you want to listen to the rest of the album.
The other single from the album, Pass On By, could be a classic Jackson Brown song, from the song melody to the occasional harmonies to the timbre of Osborne’s voice. With some tasty slide guitar thrown in, it’s one of the highlights of the album.
Last Day in the Keys isn’t exactly jaunty, but it nips along nicely, driven again by acoustic guitar and harmonica, which belies its rather sombre subject matter, that of suicide. It springs out of the loss of friends but isn’t related to any one in particular, it seems. But it’s a powerful reflection on this most difficult of human experiences.
The interplay between guitar and harmonica is terrific throughout, beautifully balanced, nowhere more so than on Dreamin’, where the harmonica work is positively Dylan-esque.
Osborne completes the album with Rainbows, another mellow number crowned by some nice slide guitar. Just “a rock and a wind and you, my best friend” is all Osborne needs for a satisfying life. He’s chased rainbows, hiked every trail, but “forgiveness and love is enough.” It’s a fine note on which to finish the album, which is one of the coolest slices of Americana you’ll enjoy this year.
It’s worth noting that the vinyl editions of Orpheus And The Mermaids come with a treasure map containing a code that can be deciphered for a chance to win a “special treasure box.” I’m sure that’d be nice, but, really, the music is enough.
Jacksonville To Wichita (4:52)
Light Up The Sun (4:07)
Last Day In The Keys (6:10)
Forced To (3:27)
Pass On By (3:57)
Welcome To Earth (5:46)
Earthly Things (3:39)