Celebrated bluesman Taj Mahal once said, “With the blues, it’s not just about bad times. It’s about the healing spirit.” Anders Osborne is doing his best to broker that balance. The Swedish-born musician’s latest record, “Buddha and the Blues,” is a mellow and contemplative collection that recalls the Laurel Canyon era of singer-songwriters. As the title implies, the theme of the album is duality, and the aim for Osborne is the acceptance of life’s failures and majesties, “A true genuine acceptance can bring a lot of peace and real joy. I see more love around me now.”
The record’s opening track “Alone” begins with the lines, “I’m a boat, on my soul / I’m a ship, in my mind / You’re a wave, in my hands / I’m a wreck. All the time.” Nautical allusions are something of an inheritance for Osborne, who comes from a long line of seafaring men. “I fish a lot. I always romanticize the idea of it. I love the ocean, but somehow I ended up in clubs, theatres and bar rooms playing music.” Osborne is at ease in Key West, where boats and bar rooms are found in equal measure.
A veteran of the Key West Songwriters Festival, Osborne first came to the island in the early ’90s. “I used to play at the Green Parrot, Hog’s Breath and Margaritaville,” he said. Osborne even rode out Hurricane Andrew here in 1992. “It became a residency. We got stuck for over two weeks and that was kind of nice,” he said with a laugh.
Osborne, who has called New Orleans home for over three decades, recognizes a soulful overlap between the two cities. “There’s a similar approach to being in the moment. With New Orleans and Key West there’s a flow of people from all over creating an identity that then becomes the identity of the city,” said Osborne, who frequently vacations on the island. “It’s laid back. Key West might slow me down even two more notches than New Orleans. I ride my bike, and I really turn off everything every time I go there. It’s a place to hide out.”
Traveling from one storied literary city to another, Osborne’s current reading list is a healthy mix of philosophy and music. It includes Eckhart Tolle’s the “Power of Now” and a biography of the legendary Dr. John, a friend and collaborator of Osborne’s who passed away earlier this year. Osborne credits Dr. John for helping him surrender hard living. “He helped me get sober about 10 years ago. He knew the path.”
Osborne is paying that saving grace forward through his Send Me A Friend program. Named for the bruising track from his 2012 album “Black Eye Galaxy,” Send Me A Friend is a national network of support aimed at helping musicians and music industry professionals stay sober when they return to the temptations of the road. “After I got clean it was important that I could go back to work, but in my case going back to work was going back to a lot of situations that got me in trouble. That’s what gave birth to the idea.” Send Me A Friend pairs touring professionals with local volunteers in recovery. “They come out before the show, stay a little after. You have someone to lean on. If you’re working on Bourbon or Duval, we’ll find someone to keep you company and keep you accountable.”
Throughout his career Osborne has kept the company of notable musicians. He has collaborated with The North Mississippi Allstars & Southern Soul Assembly and his songs have been covered by the likes of Tim McGraw and Jonny Lang. Osborne has toured extensively and counts himself as much a fan of music as a practitioner of it. He recalls two formative performances from the mid ’80s. “It was a Wednesday night on Christopher Street in New York City. There was a jazz trio playing in the basement. It was the most miraculous evening. It was the hardest, toughest, most rock ’n’ roll punk attitude I’ve ever heard, but they were playing fusion.”
Later that same year, Osborne would again be staggered by sound, this time courtesy of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. “It just completely blew my mind,” he said. Years later, Dirty Dozen founding member Kirk Joseph would join Osborne’s band as a sousaphone player and the two would go on to share many a stage together, Jazz Fest included. “When you hook up with your mentors and people you look up to it’s a real experience. I still admire him so much.”
A genuine love for music, and a serious disenchantment with the business of it, led Osborne to form his own record label, Back On Dumaine. “We were forced to do something different. It’s a challenge, but I’m going to be honest, I like a challenge.” Osborne released “Buddha and the Blues” and his two previous records on Back On Dumaine. “It’s a weird endeavor to get into a business that’s dying, but it’s our passion, we love it. The idea was for me to have a label and not be so dependent on other people for this process,” Osborne said. He hopes to extend that same sense of freedom and creative comradery to other artists, “We’re trying to expand. My idea is to set up something really grass roots. I want to help a bunch of other people locally make records. Bring it back to vinyl, create a nice community, get everyone involved in a passionate project and see if that can stimulate a little growth.”
A vinyl enthusiast, Osborne leans towards brevity in album length. “It can’t be too long. I don’t want to listen to 16 songs. Nobody has that much to say except maybe an author, maybe Tolkien,” said Osborne with a laugh. “I like 35 minutes. It’s perfect, you can check it out, jam to it and move on to something else.” True to the adage of practice what you preach, “Buddha and the Blues” clocks in at under 40 minutes.
In addition to writing, recording and producing music, Osborne is an accomplished, self-taught painter. The brush offers him a welcome reprieve from song writing. “When I paint I don’t have to care so much about whether or not it’s appreciated. It’s a quiet activity. When you write you’re using your mind to its fullest capacity to create new things, to craft them. When you paint you actually shut your mind off. It’s a lot more meditative.”
Meditative is the mindset Osborne finds himself in these days. The advice he would offer his younger, reckless self is decidedly Zen. “He wouldn’t listen, but I’d tell him trust yourself, you are good enough and everything is going to be all right. It’s all happening exactly the way it’s supposed to.”
The more-than-good-enough Osborne will be performing solo when he returns to Key West next week. “I’m going to tell some stories and play the songs acoustically, and it’s going to be wonderful,” promises Osborne. “It will be my favorite show I’ve ever done, so make sure you show up.”
Tuesday Oct. 3 at 7 p.m.
Key West Theater
512 Eaton St.