Anders Osborne couldn’t have released this album at a luckier time: Just as the hit movie “Echo in the Canyon” is creating new interest in the fabled Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter scene, Osborne has made homage to that very sound—complete with a studio full of familiar session guys backing him up. It amounts to a reminder that classic-model singer-songwriter albums are still being made.
One disclaimer though: If you’re looking for the kind of intense confessions and shredding guitar solos that you heard on American Patchwork and its follow ups, this probably won’t be your kind of Anders album. He is, for the most part, in an upbeat frame of mind here, the guitars are built more on textural layers than firebrand solos, and the first words he speaks on the album—“intimate and warm”—clue you in on what he’s after. Indeed, the advance single “Traveling With Friends” is one of the few flat-out joyful songs in his catalogue; it’s about the reassurance that such travels can provide for other parts of your life.
The songs don’t avoid darker topics, from substance abuse to Donald Trump, though the musical context is often more reassuring (and Trump deservedly gets the one angry outburst on the album, “Smoke & Mirrors”). “Escape” is as frank as any of Osborne’s substance-related songs, but its chorus, an exuberant “Yeah!” is framed by a Harrison-esque slide guitar—the song is ultimately about the triumph of getting free. The title track, which offers the two directions one’s outlook can take, has another touch of George Harrison in its lyric (“Life flows in any which way we choose”), but the graceful melody is Osborne’s own.
Comparisons to Neil Young, Joe Walsh and Tom Petty are inevitable, since the studio crew (drummer/producer Chad Cromwell, bassist Bob Glaub, guitarist Waddy Wachtel and keyboardist Benmont Tench) has played with all three—and I’d add another album Wachtel was involved with, the Church’s Starfish (whose floating psych sound is echoed here in “Aching For Your Love”). But Osborne’s always had a strong lyrical side, going back at least to the 2007 album Coming Down. And what we’ve got here is still an Osborne album—just a more immediate one that reveals more depth over time. It’s a friend that you can travel with.