With Valentine’s Day in sight, folks prepare and search for ways to express their love to others. Not all simply focus on spouses, fiances or new romances. Expressions of love come from all avenues. Right now Anders Osborne is celebrating love in music and the friends who help make it, in the form of multiple new albums and a tour.
February marks the first leg of Osborne’s spring and summer trek. He’s joined by Amy Helm, daughter of Levon Helm and Libby Titus Fagen, on one of his next stops, set for ILM’s Brooklyn Arts Center on February 17.
In two years Osborne wrote about 100 new songs, then sifted through, recorded and organized them into a few different albums. Part of those songs were released in February 2015 on “Freedom and Dreams” by North Mississippi Osborne (N.M.O.)—his roots collaborative project with North Mississippi Allstars. The next record, “Spacedust and Ocean Views,” is expected to drop sometime soon in 2016. It’s a continuation of titles from the N.M.O. album, like “Shining (Spacedust),” but recorded separately from N.M.O.
“That song [‘Shining (Spacedust)’] was written in Key West,” Osborne tells. “I was down there with my family, and it was just an observation, and a feeling I had . . . and that theme continued throughout the entire writing process.”
Back home in New Orleans—while not on tour in the summer of 2014 and 2015—Osborne spent many days riding his bike from his house in Bayou St. Johns out toward Lake Pontchartrain and back. From those miles and miles of creative contemplation came more songs than Osborne knew what to do with.
“Yes, they’re all linked together,” he confirms. “The third one will come out later on this year [and] is linked to the same sessions and the same writing process.”
Twelve of the 35 recorded tracks made it onto “Spacedust and Ocean Views.” It was a process of weeding out a majority of songs simply not ready to be on a record.
“They may not be completely finished—missing some important rhymes lyrically or musically,” Osborne explains. “So what [I] ended up with were 12 songs that, after recording for two weeks, all stood together. They seemed to be made to be together. I don’t know specifically, but sonically, musically, lyrically, the whole atmosphere and energy of them sounded like they were all brothers and sisters.”
The pace for writing and recording “Spacedust,” and his other forthcoming album, was quickened because of Osborne’s sheer amount of output. He almost took a snapshot of songs, as to not dwell on any one. “I’d rather select the best part of the bunch rather than focus on having to make these 10 songs work,” Osborne says.
Osborne already released his lead single from “Spacedust and Ocean Views,” “Lafayette.” It’s more upbeat than the rest of the album. It’s not particularly “deep,” but rather a trip around all the places Osborne likes in the form of a rock and country tune.
On the whole, Osborne wanted to evoke imagery of beauty and open landscape by way of classic-rock inspirations and sounds. While not an acoustic album, Osborne says he plays acoustic guitar on about 90 percent of the tracks. It creates a different dynamic in the song, as well as onstage. “This was much more controlled sitting and focusing on the vocal performance,” he adds.
Osborne’s producer, Mark Howard, played a big role in creating a unique sound for these songs. Howard has worked with the likes of Bob Dylan (“Time Out of Mind,” 1997) and offered a new perspective and process.
“He’s a very innovative engineer,” Osborne explains. “He works with slightly fewer microphones. He works with a live performance, which means we sit in the room with him—there’s no control room or studio room. . . .It’s all basically a live room so he can work off of what is happening.”
According to Osborne, Howard is an expert at bringing out the best vocal performance. It helped the artist sing better, and allowed him to become more present in performance and expression.
“The main thing he’s really special at is he knows how to take a voice and emphasize what is great about that voice,” Osborne notes. “He works the voice very well, finds the right microphone and combination of things.”
It’s a great task to record, not only a song, but to capture a performance that can carry on for decades. There’s always inherent pressure for Osborne in the studio to churn out songs for the rock ‘n’ roll history books, so to speak. “Because the most historic records that we know of, we speak of one performance,” he details, “one vocal performance, one guitar solo, one song. Whether it’s The Beatles, Jackson Browne, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, we know this one particular performance as well as we know our childhood. The pressure of that is beyond enormous.”
However, Osborne sees his onstage show as more than playing a song or performing a latest album. Its singular driving force comes in connecting. “A live performance is about that moment with that crowd, nothing else matters,” he amplifies. “Tomorrow that performance doesn’t matter anymore. Spiritually it’s very, very different. . . . I try to be the best I can for each moment.”
That doesn’t mean he’s not worn down by the process—or that it’s not without it’s challenges. In fact, Osborne points out some songs can be agonizing, like “Burning Out Slowly.” However, they’re also powerful in their messages.
“It has a couple of passages in it where it’s definitely painfully confusing for me, the narrator, and I’m questioning so many things, but the music is still just so beautiful,” he explains. “I listen to my band play behind, I love my vocal performance, and the whole process of what we’re doing together just feels so sincere.”
Osborne credits his band for cultivating various narratives with music so successfully. Carl Dufrene (bass), Scott Metzger (guitar), Brady Blade (drums), Tony Lionni (second drums), and John Gros (keyboard) are all friends he holds in high regard. “These are really special people in my peer group and my close family,” he tells. “So it wasn’t just players getting together. These are really special people, and I can feel that [in the record].”
The next album will encompass electric-rock songs borne of the sessions. Osborne hopes its release will follow within six to eight months of “Spacedust and Ocean Views.” In the meantime, his shows offer a nice taste.
“I started playing ‘Lafayette’ over a year ago,” Osborne says, “and 60 percent of the songs off the new record I’ve already played. I’ve probably played 40 percent of the one following that.”
. Visit http://www.brooklynartsnc.com for tickets and details.