Just over a year ago, at a show in Carbondale, Anders Osborne gave a demonstration of what music is capable of doing - connecting performer to listener, and transporting the entire gathering to another place, an elevated place. The concert left at least a few listeners using spiritual terms to describe the experience (a lot of "Holy s---!!" if I recall right), and Osborne's perspective on performing echoes the idea of a holy presence in music: "That's kind of the journey of the live performance. It's trying to connect to something very transformative, for myself and for the audience," Osborne said from Washington, D.C., the day before Election Day.Key to the Carbondale show was the electric guitar. Osborne, backed only by a bass-and-drum rhythm section, launched into long flurries of notes (the first three songs took up over a half-hour), and head-to-head encounters with his amplifier to drive up the distortion and volume. Osborne often had his eyes closed - seeing what, one can only guess - and other times he looked upwards, presumably for inspiration to find new and deeper ways to express himself through six guitar strings. My review in The Aspen Times (under the headline, "A Guitarist Possessed") noted that "Osborne had no trouble finding whatever demons, visions, pain, ecstasy lived in him, and translating them into meaningful guitar lines."Acoustic and soloOsborne returns to Eagle County, for a show at the Vilar Center on Sunday, but this time without the electrification. For his gig on Sunday at the Vilar, opening for reggae band Toots & the Maytals, Osborne is bringing only acoustic guitars, and playing solo. Without being able to lose himself in feedback and long solos, Osborne says the set will have a very different feel, with an emphasis on songs."With the songs, you're focusing on making the melodies, the voice and the lyrics transport people like that," the 46-year-old said. "You want to sing words to the audience in a way that they feel like they know the songs already, like it's the most familiar thing they've ever heard. You want to say it so it's clear. The words are doing the work for you."With the electric, you're beating people over the head sometimes. When you play acoustic, solo like this, you can get really, really dynamic; you can bring it way down. That's a different kind of connection."Osborne is one of those musicians who can have things both ways. He started out as more of a singer-songwriter type than a guitar pyrotechnician. His breakthrough album, 1993's "Break the Chain," prompted comparisons to Van Morrison (due in part to Osborne's cover of Morrison's "Stoned Me"). "Black Eye Galaxy," his 2011 album, showcased all sides of Osborne: the songs examined addiction, pain and release, but there was no shortage of heavy, Hendrix-like guitar work. Osborne has also worked as a songwriter for hire; his 2002 tune "Watch the Wind Blow By" became a number one hit for country singer Tim McGraw.'A liberating city'The other significant aspect of Osborne's musical make-up is New Orleans. Osborne was born in Sweden, and at 16 he became a wandering troubadour, playing music through Europe, Israel and North Africa. He was attracted to New Orleans not because of its reputation as a music capital, but because his grandfather and an uncle had lived there. Osborne first checked out the city in 1985 and found a creative environment that encouraged expansive thinking. He hasn't found reason to leave; he lives in the Bayou St. John neighborhood, close to the fairgrounds that is home to the legendary New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival."We don't categorize music too hard. We mix, we blend, we sit in and play with each other," Osborne said, noting that New Orleans icons like Dr. John and George Porter, bassist of the Meters, were particularly supportive in his early years. "It's one music community that's the whole thing, rather than belonging to one genre. It allows me to stay pretty free. It's a liberating city, encouraging of being who you are. The whole city's based on that."Osborne went through a period, starting in the late '90s, when his music drew heavily on the Louisiana influence. The 2002 album "Bury the Hatchet" was a collaboration with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, of the Mardi Gras Indian tribe the Golden Eagles; Osborne also formed a close and enduring alliance with Kirk Joseph, a sousaphonist and co-founder of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.In last year's Carbondale concert the New Orleans flavor was a little less evident. Instead, that show included moments like a long take on the Neil Young guitar work-out "Cortez the Killer." It ended with Osborne so soaked in sweat that he draped a towel over his shoulder. Osborne's purpose is to get to a higher spiritual plane, but getting there via an electric six-string takes an awful lot of work."The thing about music is a lot of your senses are really working hard," he said. "It's almost a paradox - you're trying to get so Zen; at the same time, you're working really hard to create something. That's an interesting combination. You have to perform, and you have to perform effortlessly enough to make it peaceful."
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