In 2009, Anders Osborne put together an acoustic band with John Fohl and Johnny Sansone to woodshed new material in a series of shows at Chickie Wah Wah. The collaboration was a dramatic success that led to the songs from Osborne’s powerful American Patchwork album, but it yielded an unintended consequence in rekindling Sansone’s career as well.
Sansone is a powerful writer—his “Poor Man’s Paradise” is one of the best songs about Louisiana ever written—but something about the work with Folh and Osborne has unleashed a torrent of creativity from Sansone. His best album—2011’s The Lord Is Waiting & the Devil Is Too, was just the start. Once It Gets Started followed in 2013.
Now comes Lady On the Levee, produced by Osborne, whose presence defines every album he makes. It’s more than a sound, more like a vision of music. With Fohl’s extraordinary guitar work featured prominently, Lady… takes Sansone’s career to the next logical step, backed by the Osborne/Fohl band augmented by Jefferey Bridges on bass, Rob Lee on drums, Joe Cabral on baritone saxophone and Ivan Neville on keyboards.
Sansone jumps out with the powerful boogie of “OZ Radio” (guarantee you’ll be hearing a lot of this one). Sansone’s howling, rip-through-the-plaster voice and deep grooved harmonica riffs are the main attractions, but hard core fans will appreciate the wit and wisdom of his character songs, Louisiana stories like the title track, “Gertrude’s Property Line” and “One Of Us,” (“he ain’t no tourist attraction/he’s one of us”). Maybe they’ll even wonder who the cautionary tale “Unnecessary Pain” was written about.
He’s got a quiet side too, beautifully expressed on the spare acoustic self-analysis, “I’m Still Here.” Sansone displays another aspect of his writing talent on the easy grooving R&B ballad “Lightning Rhodes,” a song that would not be out of place on a Bobby Charles album.
In one of this album’s best moments, Sansone’s partner from the Voice of the Wetlands All Stars Big Chief Monk Boudreaux throws in a taste of his magic at the end of the monochromatically dark, deep swamp scale of “Tomato Wine.” That is some bottomless creek of dreams.