Checkerboard Records CBCCD103
5 songs – 23 minutes
This latest album by the Portland, Oregon-based Michael Osborn & The Drivers, is the musical equivalent of Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao: short, punchy and absolutely not to be missed.
The band is led by long-time John Lee Hooker guitarist and bandleader, Michael Osborn, on guitars and vocals, and also features KG Jackson on bass and vocals, Dave Mathis on harmonica and vocals, and John Moore on drums and percussion. Engineer Gregg Williams also adds his talents on percussion to some tracks. The music they produce is sparkling, modern electric blues, with a heavy Chicago influence.
Frustratingly short, the five songs on the album leave the listener wanting significantly more. Opening with “When I Listen To The Blues”, the band launches into a classic choppy, Chicago blues-funk rhythm, overlaid with Memphis-style horns contributed by Joe McCarthy (trumpet), Chris Mercer (tenor sax) and Brad Ulrich (baritone sax).” Moore and Jackson lay down a seriously solid backing over which Osborn is able to stretch out on guitar. Osborn himself is a top drawer player, with a distinctive style and a warm, mid-rangey tone. His solos are an object lesson in how not to over-play, whilst still keeping the audience hooked on what he is saying.
The chord structure of “I’ve Been Daydreamin’” cleverly subverts the standard approach to 12 bar blues as Osborn’s weathered voice reminisces about getting older and the inevitability of mortality. It is indicative of the overall maturity to the album, both in the lyrical preoccupations and the muscular confidence of the playing.
“Through With You” drives along to a Bo Diddley beat, and features a tremendous harp solo from Mathis.
Osborn wrote four of the songs on the album and Mathis contributed the other, the droll “Retirement Blues”, which nicely articulates the position in which many people find themselves. He sings the first couple of verses pretty straight, telling the listener that: “Growing old ain’t that easy, it’s so hard to adjust. One day you’re working steady, the next day collecting dust. I’m on a fixed income, baby. I got to really watch my bread. Every time I pay the bills, seems like I’m always in the red.” By the time the pre-chorus arrives, however, Mathis is mining the situation for humour: “Can’t find my keys, my wife says I snore. If I lose my glasses, I can’t find the front door.”
“Live Wire” is a burning slow blues instrumental, opening with yet another incendiary guitar solo from Osborn, before Mathis takes over on harp. The two players then swap solo after solo, never slipping into self-indulgence but always keeping themselves on their toes.
Driven By A Sound is way too short, but what there is, is superb. Featuring great playing, crystal-clear production and first class songs, if the band had released an entire album of a similar quality, they’d be looking at clearing up in the annual “album of the year” contests. As it is, if you like modern electric blues, with a heavy slice of Chicago-style blues, you must hear this album. Wonderful stuff.