Checkerboard Records -2010
Bravo to Michael Osborn & The Drivers on delivering the goods in a big way!
The Cascade Blues Association
Michael Osborn was John Lee Hooker’s guitarist for 13 years (I do remember seeing him with The Boogie Man at London’s Hammersmith Odeon) and he has a respectable discography himself, with three albums for Blue Rock’It between 1988 and 1996, and now releases on his own Checkerboard label. It certainly shows on this release, which is definitely modern blues but without any of the vacant posturing that term sometimes implies. He began his blues career working with the Ford Brothers and in 1970 was a founding member of the famed Charles Ford Band (who recorded for Arhoolie).
That he has got the chops is in no doubt from this straightforward blues set. There are echoes of Hooker’s spikey guitar style (most notably on ‘Needles And Pins’), but for the most part the playing recalls the likes of BB King and Alberts King and Collins, though usually with a little more down-home ambience, thanks to the stripped-down accompaniment of just bass, drums and harp. Lead vocals are shared between Dave Jackson on four songs, KG Jackson on three numbers, and Michael himself on just one, and the occasional use of harmonised lead vocals adds a fine individual sound. Most of the songs are originals but there are a couple of nice surprises. Whilst the opener is best-known from The Fabulous Thunderbirds and is a fine, slightly New Orleans-ish rocking piece, ‘Lollipop Mama’ is an excellent cover of Clarence Samuels’ 1947 Aristocrat recording.
I enjoyed this CD a lot – it is pleasing and unpretentious. Mike recalls in his notes that Hooker told him: “You can play a lot of notes and think you’re dazzling them… give them melody and feeling…” On this evidence Mike took note.
Norman Darwen, Blues and Rhythm Magazine, UK
Boy, this CD was a long time in coming. After Michael Osborn put together The Drivers more than a year ago with such a talented line-up, I was heavy in anticipation awaiting the release of new material. Well, I have to say the wait was well worth it. Osborn’s third disc on his own Checkerboard label, The Glamorous Life proves that the band’s name is aptly titled. Because this album just drives the blues home.
The Drivers of course are made up of Osborn’s searing guitar work, local harp great Dave Mathis doing his usual blowing the tin off the instrument, K.G. Jackson handling bass superbly and John Moore hitting the skins with the perfect rhythm. Michael, K.G. and Dave alternate between one another on vocals. It’s a traditional blues gem, as they work from covers to originals, all with equal attention that rings true every time.
K.G. Jackson has long been an overlooked talent in the Northwest. We’ve seen him front bands of his own in the past, most often playing guitar. But he relents the guitar duties to Michael, rightly so considering Osborn’s past work with such people as Charlie Musselwhite, Sista Monica, The Ford Blues Band and more than a decade leading one John Lee Hooker’s band. But Jackson is more than capable at bass and what’s even more his forte, he’s a great songwriter, contributing three tracks to the album. The only other original being Osborn’s title track.
The CD opens with a very nice cover of the song “Why Get Up,” best known for The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ take and this new version holds up well compared to theirs. Also familiar tunes include “Lollipop Mama,” a staple of William Clarke’s songbook that has become an outstanding piece yet again in the hands of Dave Mathis, and the Jimmy Reed classic “Bright Lights, Big City” with the unmistakable harmonica riff handled nicely by Mathis while Osborn provides some tasty guitar additions.
The Glamorous Life is a very satisfying CD, with only one problem I can note. At just under 31 minutes in length, it leaves you wishing for more. But what a fantastic 31 minutes it is. Bravo to Michael Osborn & The Drivers on delivering the goods in a big way!
Greg Johnson, Cascade Blues Association, Portland, OR
My secret weight loss program? “Sleep Your Weight Away.” It is based on the fact that even a sleeping person is burning calories, and, most importantly, one is not eating while asleep. Feeling hungry? Take a nap instead of having a snack!
“I went to the doctor he said lose some weight / And, if you don’t do it quick we got to operate …. Why Get Up?,” sings Dave Mathis, harmonicist and vocalist for Michael Osborn and the Drivers on Osborn’s latest CD. In the opening track, Mathis makes a convincing case for just sleeping the troubles away as he nails the vocals on this cover of the memorable Fabulous Thunderbirds song, written by Bill Carter and wife Ruth Ellsworth. Mathis, in addition to listing six more reasons to just stay in bed, adds a killer harmonica solo at mid song just after Osborn’s tasty guitar-break licks.
And, thus, we have the beginning of another standout set of Blues from Michael Osborn and crew. Thirty minutes is way too short for this CD, but I love the stripped down, real-deal approach of this veteran Bluesman’s quartet: guitar, bass, harp, drums — and no horns!
Osborn’s guitar playing is a real highlight. With pleasing tone, he is tasteful in his note spacing, stretching, fills, and runs. Anything but over the top, he is, thankfully, not a string shredder.
Osborn’s sixth release is purist pleasing electric Blues across four originals and three covers. My favorite original, “Needles and Pins,” is written by bassist and vocalist K.G. Jackson. This mid-tempo shuffle opens with ear catching single notes from Osborn’s guitar. The rhythm joins, founded by John Moore’s pocket drumming, and then three part harmony vocals cement this song enjoyable and memorable. Melody is what makes this song joyously swing, a trait of the classics one remembers most. I also liked Osborn’s multi-tracked rhythm guitar alongside his lead guitar punctuations at the end of each vocal line.
“The Glamorous Life” is a humorous shuffle giving us our first listen to Osborn’s serviceable vocals. After listing a litany of road woes for a touring musician, Osborn sardonically sings, but “…it’s the glamorous life.” This song was also included in Osborn’s previous release, 2008’s “What Goes Around.”
Michael Osborn is well known and respected, especially in his home, 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. 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 then, Osborn has played with Sista Monica, toured Europe with his own band, recorded three CDs on the Blue Rock’it label and three more on his own Checkerboard label. For seven years he’s been an outstanding contribution to Bill Rhoades and the Party Kings in his current home near Portland OR.
These four cats are just killer: three part harmonies plus all but Moore take a turn at lead vocals, Mathis deft on diatonic and chromatic harps, Jackson writing in classic style, Osborn playing ripping guitar (even channeling Albert King at one point), and John Moore’s veteran stick work being the band’s heartbeat. Electric Blues fans – this one is a delight!
James “Skyy Dobro” Walker, Blues Blast, IL
Bright juicy album by blues singer and guitar player Michael Osborn and The Drivers. Michael’s first album is a collaboration of four high class musicians, intense, passionate, colorful and in love with the most classic genuine blues, who are Dave Mathis on vocals and harmonica, KG Jackson on bass and vocals and John Moore on drums. Three excellent singers who take leading turns along the album, as they are gifted with a great powerful voice which make them shine like twinkling stars. But as instrumentalist they are also impressive and all them have a fine tasteful technique, which makes them give a personal intense feeling to all songs included. The four musicians have individually won some Cascade Blues Association Muddy Awards in different categories. Michael was also the right hand of the great John Lee Hooker and the rest of musicians were also members of the bands of artists like Albert Collins, William Clarke, Willie Dixon and Robben Ford, among others. Welcome to this big blues party where these musicians are the best possible hosts and actors. GREAT.
Vincente Zumel,” La Hora del Blues”, Barcelona, Spain