Down on the Bayou: Anders Osborne’s evolving New Orleans Sound

The genre-jumping songwriter and accomplished guitarist, Anders Osborne, brings his melting pot of rock to the Jefferson. Publicity photo The genre-jumping songwriter and accomplished guitarist, Anders Osborne, brings his melting pot of rock to the Jefferson. Publicity photo

Through a two-and-a-half-decade career, Anders Osborne has consistently proven to be one of New Orleans’ most versatile musicians. Since releasing his debut album in 1989, Osborne has become a Crescent City mainstay, able to vary his sound from edgy Bayou blues (2001’s Ash Wednesday Blues) to introspective soulful folk-rock (2007’s Coming Down). He’s collaborated with some of the Big Easy’s best, performing in the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars super group that included Dr. John and members of The Meters, and he’s also an accomplished songwriter. A stint as a hired gun in Nashville yielded a number one country hit for Tim McGraw, and Osborne also co-wrote two tunes on Keb Mo’s Grammy-winning album Slow Down.

His sound took a turn with 2010’s acclaimed effort American Patchwork. It now wanders between Cajun-hued journeyman blues and aggressive improvisational rock, anchored by worldly-wise lyrics that often cover his struggle to overcome addiction. Osborne has started mixing it up in the jam band world—recently collaborating with Gov’t Mule and even earning a spot in one of Phil Lesh’s rotating Friends line-ups. He chatted with C-VILLE ahead of a Saturday night show at The Jefferson Theater.


C-VILLE Weekly: Between Coming Down and American Patchwork, you made a pivot to a louder rock direction. What inspired the change? 

Anders Osborne: “I went through a lot of life changes. With those came a lot of clarity and the desire to include a lot more muscle in the music. It was a natural progression; I found myself going back to some of my favorite old rock records by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, and I decided to incorporate those influences. I also started to get geeky with my guitar rig and it didn’t take long for me to get comfortable.”

Your gritty guitar style has a lot of influences that are sometimes hard to pinpoint. Can you explain how it developed? 

“I try to play with as many people as possible and pick up different things from my contemporaries. Throughout the years there have been so many influences, including a lot of horn players. I like to incorporate the melodies and phrasing of guys like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. In my early days of playing, I was really into Ry Cooder and Robert Johnson, and lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead.”

Speaking of the Grateful Dead, you recently headed west to jam with Phil Lesh at his venue Terrapin Crossroads. Are you a longtime Deadhead? 

“I didn’t get into them until they had the ’80s commercial break with “Touch of Grey.” I had to pedal backwards and look at everything they’d done before. Also, a local New Orleans player Billy Iuso, who was in my band for about two years was a huge fan, and he turned me on to a lot of their best recordings.”

“Phil is very meticulous; he’s looking for a specific thing with each band that he puts together. A few days before our shows he sent me a list of songs, so I had to quickly learn the material before we could get together and go through it. It was a fun experience.”

You moved to Nashville for a song-writing gig and wrote “Watch the Wind Blow By,” a No.1 hit for Tim McGraw. Was cracking that code rewarding at all? 

“It was surprising, and rewarding, especially because it wasn’t one of the songs I wrote as a staff writer. It was just one of my general laid back tunes that someone happened to hear and thought I should demo. It brought me to another level of artists looking at my songs. Tim is also originally from Louisiana, so we had that connection.”

Since you collaborate with a lot of fellow New Orleans musicians, how would you characterize the city’s current music scene?

“I tour a lot, so I wouldn’t say that I totally have my finger on the pulse. There are a lot of nuances to the scene down here. For a long time it was dominated by funk, but lately I’ve noticed a singer-songwriter revival. Plenty of brass bands are still around, and we also have a heavy metal scene, or what I should probably call Southern hard rock. It feels like everything has found its place and a lot of different styles are mingling together.”

“It’s also a place where artists from different genres can really work together. Next week I’m playing in a band called Dragon Smoke with Stanton Moore and Robert (Mercurio) from Galactic and Ivan Neville on keyboards.”

Is a new studio album in the works? 

“I have a new full-length record coming out September 10. I headed two hours west and recorded it at Dockside Studio near Lafayette. I can’t reveal too much, but I’ll say it continues to be more rock in the vein of American Patchwork and Black Eye Galaxy. I’m really proud of this one.”