Music

Straight-Up Passion

Anders Osborne brings his powerful performance to Sterling Stage on Saturday

Anders Osborne has his hands in a little bit of everything. He tours prolifically, produces for some of the best in the business and writes enough to have two albums out this year. How does he do it?

“You have to be bipolar,” he says straight before letting out a laugh.

Osborne is the type of artist that is suddenly becoming a mainstream name as he announces tours with musicians like Phil Lesh. But the “overnight success” is anything but. He’s been a musician on the rise since the 1980s, writing chart-topping hits like “Watch the Wind Blow By,” recorded and released by Tim McGraw in 2003, and co-writing songs on Keb’ Mo’s 1999 Grammy Award-winning album Slow Down.

Meanwhile, Osborne’s own albums have become known as some of the most soulful and varied, punctuated by his fiery live performances that lean from rough and raw to beautifully emotional. He’ll bring that energy to Sterling Stage Kampitheater for the Last Daze of Summer Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21.

The variation is intentional for Osborne. “I like to make it an interesting journey to listen to the whole {album},” he says. “I’m not a fan of heavy guitar straight through, so I don’t do that.”

He’s less decided about the other end of the spectrum, “or straight ballads. . . well, that’s not true. I can handle a whole ballad record actually. But I try to mix it up as best I can. It’s a trip: starting, middle and end.”

But even then, Osborne keeps listeners on their toes, especially in the past two years. Black Eye Galaxy, released in May 2012, touches on themes of struggle, peace and redemption, a record that strips the pretences and sticks to the hard truth that songwriting can reveal. Then in February 2013, Three Free Amigos hit; the album of six demo-like songs topped out at a whopping 25 minutes. October will see the release of Peace, a record of absolute precision.

AndersOsborne“Three Free Amigos was an in-between thing,” Osborne says. “I make my demos on a memo recorder, just guitar and vocals, and then we extend that in the studio. Put a bass on it, drums, harmonies, develop it. Three Free Amigos is insight into what the demos sound like. Peace is much more ambitious.”

Peace sent Osborne to the legendary Dockside Studios, in Louisiana, changing tubes and dialing in on sounds to hone in on what he was digging for.

“It takes a long time to figure out,” he says. “We worked on the songs much more diligently. You have to pay much more time to making sure every nuance is to your liking. We did not do that for Three Amigos. That was quick and simple.”

In addition to his own albums, Osborne has worked as a producer for artists including Johnny Sansone, Mike Zito and Tab Benoit. “It’s something I’m really passionate about, really like doing,” Osborne says about producing. “Over the years, you make one record that turns out a certain way, that leads to another record and someone likes the sound of that and wants something similar. That leads to another. That’s how those things happen. You get an opportunity, do the best you can, represent the artists, and it leads to more records.”

The consistently stellar work also leads to opportunities like that of performing with musical royalty. Osborne says the connection with Phil Lesh came about naturally through management looking for “someone with certain qualities.” Osborne turned out to be that someone and he and Lesh will hit dates together from Oct. 31 to Nov. 13.

“I’m extremely blessed and grateful for opportunities like that,” he says. “{Lesh} is obviously and clearly a rock’n’roll landmark. His work ethic is wonderful. He’s been doing it for 45 years, and he hasn’t let up at all. He has rehearsals, puts a lot of effort into every show, every night. And he brought back ways to open up songs. It’s pretty common you’ll improvise and jam on a simple progression, very much like jazz. But the Grateful Dead does that with rock’n’roll songs. It’s pretty cool. The transitions from song to song, letting things breathe, giving things time, not afraid of being different. I’m a big fan of that.”

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