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Michael Osborn - What Goes Around

Checkerboard Records

10 songs; 45:46 minutes; Enjoyable from First Listen

Styles: Contemporary Blues, Chicago Blues

Vote for the best job:
Choice A – Beer taster in the morning and mattress tester in the afternoon.
Choice B – Weekly record reviewer.

And, the winner by a landslide is.... Well, at least the job of record reviewer is never boring. This is the 40th album I have reviewed this year in a ten year career of helping fans know more about a CD before they buy it. Each week I play a new recording, often with trepidation. I always wonder if the “latest” will be a solid blues recording, or an over produced mess laden with thick horns thrown into every crack and crevice, or another “I recorded it myself at home” CD made possible in a digital age.

Imagine my simultaneous relief and joy when a CD like “What Goes Around” comes around, its all original lineup contains nary a cover, and it strikes a harmonious chord right from the first listen. Michael Osborn’s fifth release is solid at every turn as proven in the car CD player on a recent road trip. Personally, listening to a CD in my car allows me a better chance to concentrate on the music as there are fewer distractions than at home. Yes, drunken reckless drivers and road hazards are less a diversion that a cat, television, and a wife.

Osborn could have named the CD “Bonus” as old friend Robben Ford adds his unmistakable guitar licks on five tracks. Plus, friend and leader of his own band featuring Osborn, Bill Rhoades of B.R. and the Party Kings, adds tasty harmonica and also sings on two cuts. And, will big record labels and hot shot producers please take note: he did it all with no horns! Rounding out the band are D.K. Stewart on piano, Tom Szell – bass, and John Moore – drums.

As a bluesman, Michael Osborn is a well known and respected, especially on the West Coast. Michael grew up in Ukiah CA with the Ford brothers, including the great Robben Ford. In 1970, he was one of the founding members of the Charles Ford Band, and went on to play with Gary Smith, David Raitt (Bonnie’s brother), and Charlie Musselwhite.

In 1981, Michael became the lead guitarist and band leader for Blues legend John Lee Hooker. For the next 13 years, Michael toured the world with John Lee. Since leaving John Lee Hooker’s Coast to Coast Blues Band, Michael has played with Sista Monica, toured Europe with his own band, recorded three CDs on the Blue Rock'it label and two on his own Checkerboard label, and for five years has been an outstanding contribution to Bill Rhoades and the Party Kings in his current home in Portland OR.

Track one, the title track, is a mid-tempo instrumental that opens with ten seconds of Stewart’s cascading piano. Osborn then steps in with single-string picked notes speaking clearly to the soul. Not long after, Robben Ford joins to trade clever guitar phrases just ahead of Rhoades harmonica solo. One more return to the earlier stated theme by all, and the song wraps up leaving behind smiles and reassurance that this is a winner.

Track two, “The Glamorous Life” is a humorous shuffle giving us our first listen to Osborn’s solid vocals. After listing a litany of road woes for a touring musician, Osborn sardonically sings, but “’s the glamorous life.”

Osborn’s guitar playing is the real highlight of this CD. With pleasing tone, he is tasteful in his note spacing, stretching, fills, and runs. Anything but over the top, he is not a string shredder playing 500 notes to the bar. Just call him “Les S. Moore.”

Other standouts include: the slow blues “Innocent (But On Trial)” featuring guitar and harmonica working hand-in-glove and Rhoades on vocals, Michael and Robben’s guitars on “One Thing Before You Go,” and an incredible, here’s-how-its-done instrumental, “Nightmare Blues.”

If Michael Osborn has flown under your radar until now, maybe you accidentally had the switch set on sonar! Take it from someone who listen to a new CD every week, this album has sensibilities for the brain and plenty of heart for the soul.

Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL

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