Anders Osborne : Black Eye Galaxy

Anders Osborne’s past struggles with drug and alcohol addiction are well documented, and have, at times, overshadowed his immense talent as a songwriter. His 2010 album, the masterful American Patchwork, chronicled his long journey through addiction to recovery. It was a deeply personal narrative that described what Osborne called “the patching back together of man scattered to the wind.”

His latest album, Black Eye Galaxy, continues that narrative. Where American Patchwork is the story of a man coming to grips with his past, Black Eye Galaxy is a man coming to terms with his future and the the lingering impact of his past transgressions. While it relies on much of the same aggressive guitar work that found its way onto American Patchwork and has dominated Osborne’s live sets recently, it also features a return to some of the simpler, more singer-songwriter type tunes found in his earlier work.

Black Eye Galaxy is a musically adventurous beast, ranging from the high-octane thrash of the opening “Send Me a Friend,” to the gentle strum of “Dancin’ in the Wind” (co-written by Little Feat’s Paul Barrere), to the lengthy jazzy-interlude of the title track. But it is in the lyrics where the deeper power and greatness of the album is fully revealed.

Osborne has always been a masterful songwriter, authoring a number one hit for country superstar Tim McGraw with “Watch the Wind Blow By,” contributing songs to Keb Mo’s Grammy-winning Slow Down, and crafting a large stable of his own unique, transcendent songs. He has always had a special way with words, but before writing American Patchwork, he began to refine his technique based on the changes in his life. Black Eye Galaxy functions as a well-developed song-cycle with Osborne leading the listener on a brutally honest, painful journey from his past demons into his future.  The opening “Send Me a Friend” is call for help, with Osborne pleading, “I’m lost out here/ Please won’t you send me a friend.”

“Mind of a Junkie,” the powerful second track, sounds as if written by man struggling through a 12 step program with his laundry list of problems he encounters with each step. He admits he hates to make amends and has tried to read the big book, but can’t see the words. When he meditates things become a blur, and he preaches about stuff he doesn’t understand, He has selfish aspirations and he is not letting God into his heart. This self-realization continues on “Tracking My Roots” when he sings, “Yeah they say I’m a lonely creature/ Even with kids and a wife/ That I walk to the tune of a loner/ Yeah I’ve done it all my life.”  Later he chillingly declares, “Sometimes I want to get real drunk/ Why I know I’m not suppose to/ Yeah I curse that damn addiction/ That took all those years from me and you.”

Osborne’s open, unflinching honesty can lead to uncomfortable moments; but it is said that after the storm comes the sun, from the darkness comes the light, and this is true for Black Eye Galaxy and its turn toward a more positive, upbeat posture near the albums end. On “Tracking My Roots” he sings, “I fell in love once in a graveyard/ All her kisses stole my soul/ I’ve loved her since the beginning/ And I will till I’m dead and cold,” a reference to where he met and proposed to his wife back home in New Orleans.

His journey finally seems to lead to a happy, contented place on the album-closing, gospel- infused “Higher Ground,” which finds his young daughter and wife singing along joyfully with him as he defiantly finds salvation: “Ain’t no trouble going to get to me/ Nobody’s going to bring me down/ No worries will come to my mind/ I’m standing on higher ground.”

Black Eye Galaxy is an open book to a man’s soul, a painful reminder of how flawed we can all be, but told with a touch of unflinching beauty and thunderous guitar. It is a perfect combination of light from dark, the musical embodiment of the sun after the storm.

Black Eye Galaxy is out now on Alligator Records.