Music Notes: Sitting Around Singing Songs

by Steve Houk

Collaborating while just enjoying each other’s music is a present day phenomenon for some talented musicians. 

Jackie Greene and Anders Osborne

The ultimate goal of any great musician is to be their own man or woman–meaning they mostly want to succeed at writing and singing their own songs, and crafting their own personal vibe.

But make no mistake, collaborating and forming unions with other like-minded musicians is a tangible joy many of them gleefully endeavor to do as well. For some, it’s almost as important as their solo careers.

Nowhere is this more evident than within a specific circle of uber-talented singer-songwriters who find it especially enjoyable to just sit around and play their music together, tell war stories, laugh their ass off, and just have a good damn time feeding off the energy. And lucky for music fans, they’re doing it out on the road. This was evidenced most recently by the Southern Soul Assembly tour featuring roots/soul/rock heavyweights Luther Dickinson, Marc Broussard, JJ Grey and Anders Osborne, which then spawned another alliance, this time between Osborne and Dickinson’s North Mississippi All Stars, affectionately dubbed North Mississippi Osborne.

It appears Osborne has enjoyed this kind of interaction so much over his long career that this fall, he is joining forces with yet another superb singer/songwriter, Jackie Greene, on their acoustic Sitting Around Singing Songs Tour that stops by The Birchmere on October 26.

Osborne, the 51 year old thirty-years-and-countin’ warhorse who just finished a summer stint opening for Bonnie Raitt, and who also has a new single out called “Liquor Drought,” clearly has a passion for these kinds of collaborations, using it as a way to enhance his growth as a musician, and thriving on the experience every time.

“I get to learn and grow as, you know, a person and as a musician,” Osborne said as he was prepping for this run with Greene. “Because you’re absorbing these other artists and writers and singers, and what they do, so you get to kind of step out of your own thing and get a different perspective on your own music. There’s a lot of growth that comes with it. And then, of course, it’s the camaraderie, it’s the same as having a really great band, but each time you hook up with some new people, people that you don’t see all the time, it’s real extra exciting, and everybody’s on their best behavior most of the time. It’s a little bit like going to camp as a kid. You just get together and shoot the shit and crack some jokes and have a good time.

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It’s a little more lighthearted. When I stay out on my own, you know, it’s a lot of yourself, and you just kind of think about your own stuff and your own music, your own thoughts, your emotions, expressions. And, after a while that can get a little redundant, so it’s refreshing.

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Greene echoes Osborne when to comes to the joy of unions like this, and how organic a pairing the two make as far as the live experience goes.

“I love it so much,” Greene, 36, said from his home studio in Brooklyn. “(Anders and I) did a shorter run earlier this year.

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It was only like six or seven shows. We went into it without too much of a plan, really. We thought, we’ll get up there together and we’ll accompany each other on each other’s songs. And it turned out that we had such a good time and very, very real, very organic moments seemed to happen.

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It just turned out to be a lot of fun for everybody, we had so much fun, the audience had so much fun. We were joking around. We told some stories, we’d just sit around and play some songs. And later we were like, you know, let’s do this for real.”

Greene just wrapped up an EP of original tunes, The Modern Lives Vol 1, recorded at his small home studio, which fits right into the whole aesthetic of keeping things simple and raw and real, something many music fans seem to yearn for these days.

Southern Soul Assembly plays live in 2016 (L-R: Luther Dickinson, Marc Broussard, JJ Grey and Anders Osborne)

“I really enjoy recording at home or at in home studios,” Greene said. “So I guess, the collective psyche longs for things that are homemade, in a world where things are mass produced and computer controlled. I think that there’s something about that that people want to latch onto in the world that we live in. They don’t want to forget that. They don’t want to forget that human beings made culture and they made civilization but with their bare hands.

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And I want to translate that somehow. Or maybe I’m subconsciously translating it to the way I’m making music these days. So as far as the tour, as it turns out, it’s like people ate it up and it’s selling really well. I mean, I think that’s proof that people want something handmade and authentic. So yeah, we’re really looking forward to it. ”

Osborne is fifteen years older than Greene, but with music, age is only a positive factor when it comes to playing with and learning from each other.

“I think we’re probably more similar, in terms of the kind of music that we like and that we come from,” Greene said. “We’re definitely very similar in that regard. Obviously he’s a generation older than me (laughs). But I look up to him, he’s a mentor, yet he’s so young at heart, he might as well be a 12 year-old. And I’m that way too. So we have a lot in common, we love a lot of the same kinds of music. We have a good time.”

Osborne has mutual respect for Greene, and echoes the sentiments about feeding off each other’s music. “Any chance that I get to step out of my own kind of hamster wheel is a good thing. Because when you do your own art and your own music and all that stuff, it is a pretty insulating reality. Digging deep inside your heart to find out what you want to express, it’s all a very internal kind of quest. But when you collaborate, you get outside a little bit and observe these other beautiful people doing this process. It’s more like a team sport, you’re swinging the ball back and forth, and everybody’s involved.”

Greene reiterates the feeling that with these kinds of partnerships and combinations, the possibilities are endless. And the main reason they work, besides the music? They like each other.

“Yeah, we get along. And it’s weird because on one level, it’s just like a bunch of dudes sitting around, talking shit. But there’s something that is so authentic about it and we’re not scripting anything. That’s not the kind of show it is. It’s about as real as you can get. And about as stripped down and naked as you can get. Not to say that we’re gonna get naked. We don’t want to scare anybody.”

Jackie Greene and Anders Osborne with special guest Cris Jacobs perform Thursday October 26 at The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria VA 22305. For tickets click here.

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