Saturday, April 9, 2016

Mike Osborn – In the Dog House | Album Review

Mike Osborn – In the Dog House

Je Gagne Records

11 tracks / 45:00

Few albums that I review can be classified as pure blues, as they often have elements of rock or country in them, and in Mike Osborn’s case, his In The Dog House disc has a little bit of everything in it. After moving from Illinois to Woodland, California (near Sacramento) in his early teens, Mike took up the guitar and by the time he was 16 he was playing lead guitar in a country rock band; since then he has played a bit of everything: classic rock, blues, and metal. After taking a break from gigging to take care of his children, about ten years ago he got back into the business in a serious way. The result was his killer 2009 debut album, Fire & Fury, and now his follow-up, In the Dog House.

Though Mike now lives in the San Francisco Bay area, this disc was recorded in Southern California with Grammy winner Alan Mirikitani doing the mixing, mastering, and taking on the producer role. Mirikitani also wrote seven of the tracks with his collaborator Dennis Walker; Osborn wrote three of the other songs, and John Fulbright wrote the remaining tune. Mike took care of the vocals and guitars, and he was joined by a bunch of stone-cold professionals in the studio. These folks include Johnny Griparic on bass (Slash and BB Chung King), Lee Spath on the skins (Robert Cray and Rod Stewart), and Teddy Andreadis on keyboards (everybody, including Carole King and Guns & Roses). Whew!

What these guys put together is incredible: the songs are all very well-written, musicianship is first-rate, and Osborn’s guitar work and vocals are amazing. Each song is different and cover more genres than would seem possible in a 45 minute album that actually sounds like it is a singular piece of art. They kick this diverse set off with “Love vs. Ego” a blues rocker with nice Hammond from Andreadis and hearty vocals from Mike. He says “love wins,” but I am not too sure about that…

Though In the Dog House seems to be mostly focused on love and its associated games, Osborn finds time to address two subjects other than romance on this album. One of these, “Company Graveyard,” is a hard driving boogie about a man who does not want to be tied down by the man. And “Veterans Song” is an ode to our armed forces, a pleasant rocker with neat vocal harmonies.

But the other tracks are all about love, all the way down to its most graphic level, as found in “Tied Up.” This straight up blues tune matches a raunchy guitar tone to the lyrical content, and Andreadis’ organ is amazing. Get it?

One of the standout tracks on this disc is “Jump in Your Fire,” a Texas boogie that has a lot of “La Grange” in it. Except that Osborn’s growly vocals are a bit more intelligible than you might expect from the intro. This track rocks to the highest degree, and it shows that Mike’s talent has a lot of depth.

And to provide the icing for this tasty cake, guest artist Randy Mitchell (formerly with Warren Zevon) lends his slide guitar to the John Fulbright song, “Satan & St. Paul.” Though beautifully built, this countrified ballad is stone cold bummer as Osborn dissects a romance gone horribly wrong with vocals that he grads from deep within his soul.

The set draws to a close with the title track, and again we get something just a little different and unexpected. The surf-rock inspired instrumental has a slamming beat, jangly guitars and a cool melody. It is cool that Mike got to show off his mad guitar skills one last time -- he is the real deal, for sure.

Mike Osborn’s In the Dog House is a winner from every perspective. He delivers a passionate and intelligent album that was carefully put together by one of the best in the business. I have heard his live performance is just as good, so I look forward to checking his show out for myself at my earliest convenience!

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