Anders Osborne

Three Free Amigos

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Three Free Amigos is the most curious record in Anders Osborne's catalog. Released less than a year after his scorching Black Eye Galaxy, this EP contains six songs recorded in NOLA, co-produced by the artist with Warren Riker (who also engineered the set). These are informal, mostly brief tunes -- the entire offering is a shade over 25 minutes -- performed in relaxed fashion by Osborne and his road band with some friends (who include the gifted vocalist Maggie Koerner). There are four new songs, an older one that's never been recorded, and a new version of "Never Is a Real Long Time" from 1999's Living Room. The new tunes were written in the aftermath of Black Eye Galaxy. The title track is one of Osborne's excellent story-songs, driven by his electric guitar that underscores his and Koerner's vocals. A midtempo rocker, it eventually gives way to a longer, spooky, snaky blues jam with his slide guitar playing emerging at the fore as Michael Burkhardt's B-3 offers its own atmospheric tinge. "Marmalade" is a cheerful, drenched-in-sunshine reggae tune, accented by dubwise effects. "Jealous Love" is an acoustic take on Bo Diddley's signature riff but offers an excellent lyric. "It's Gonna Be OK" is a minor-key Americana ballad that would be right at home in a Neil Young songbook. Resonator and acoustic guitars, shuffling drums, and a hooky refrain carry it, while Koerner's voice in the margins haunts the instrumental passage on slow boil. The new reading of "Never Is a Real Long Time" is better in this stripped-down setting. Osborne proves (again) that he is underrated as a vocalist. Even with a limited range, his grainy baritone is able to express emotional depth with the subtlest of nuances. With Koerner joining him on the refrain, the generosity in the song's subject takes on a poignant resonance. Closer "We Move On" is a simple acoustic singalong, but the brief harmonica and bells remove it -- ever so slightly -- from its back-porch roots into something more textural and open. Three Free Amigos is a curiosity, because other than the laid-back, informal vibe applied here, nothing ties these songs together -- a true anomaly for an Osborne record. That's far from a bad thing. This is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend 25 minutes, and is an excellent, intimate aural glimpse into Osborne the songwriter rather than the guitar hero.

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