One Track Mind: Anders Osborne "Boxes, Bills and Pain" (1999)

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by Pico

One of the coolest things about being a music fan is that no matter how much music you’ve already listened to, you can always discover great new talent that will sound fresh and exciting to your ears. Even if the talent has been around a while and is only “new” to you.

Recently, I’ve been exploring the music of Swedish native Anders Osborne. Readers of Josh Hathaway’s Listening Room feature might have picked up on that way back in February. Osborne piqued my interest because he spent a lot of time in New Orleans, absorbing much of the bountiful musical tradition there. He also demonstrates heavy doses of blues, rock and folk influences. Little Feat, Dr. John, Ry Cooder, The Meters, John Hiatt are just a few of the reference points you can find in his roots-rich music. Digging further, I found he was raised on music at a very early age and bounced around Europe and the Middle East as a teenager before settling in for an extended residency at The Big Easy.

These days, Osborne is in Nashville and might be more focused on writing songs for artists as diverse as Tim McGraw and Dr. John, but when he was more concerned with making records in the nineties and the turn of the mellineum, he put out a handful of critically acclaimed releases; one of best, the eclectic Living Room, even got a Grammy nomination.

I’ve spun Living Room about a half dozen times now and I’ve enjoyed pretty much every song on there, regardless of the mood and tempo. But it’s the lead off track “Boxes, Bills and Pain” that grabs me the most.

Taking a page out of the early Taj Mahal playbook, Osbourne employs the vintage delta blues acoustic slide guitar and marries it to just a hint of contemporary instrumentation, enough to make you connect to it easily even if you’re not a big fan of this kind of music; much the same way Taj Mahal brought many non-blues fans into the fold. But Osborne plays his cards one at a time; in the beginning there’s just his aching vocal and acoustic guitar, then light percussion and a hint of organ creeps in by the second verse. The percussion become more urgent with each verse until a funky groove led by an electric bass makes its entrance, and finally, drums and fuzzed electric guitar. It’s a progression from finger-snapping to foot stomping to butt shaking in about two and a half minutes time. Until the song fades out shortly after the four minute mark, it’s just a rootsy jam and a helluva good time.

Anders Osbourne may be from Scandinavia and has lived all over the world, but his music says his heart has always resided in New Orleans, La., and the neighboring Mississippi Delta region. “Boxes, Bills and Pain” is one of those songs that tells you he isn’t the kind of musician who merely salutes in the general direction of these places, instead, he’s made them a central part of his globe-trotting life.

Listen: Anders Osbourne “Boxes, Bills and Pain”

“One Track Mind” is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.

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