Brothers Osborne Are Helping to Revive Country Music With ‘Port Saint Joe’
Brothers Osborne hail from the small bay town of Deale, Maryland, and their music captures the feel, summery and unpretentious of their roots. Singer T.J. and guitarist John are sons of plumbers, whose father made the two play four-hour musical sets when they were growing up. They made quite a name for themselves with their first album, “Pawn Shop,” with their single, “Stay a Little Longer” reaching the top ten in country charts. Yet, the brothers could hardly care less about how they chart. They’ve been vocal about how they try to ignore any traditional measures of success, lest it get in the way of their artistic instincts. John has mentioned that people “were tired of the bullshit” in country music, and this neatly sums up their perspective. Their new record, “Port Saint Joe,” named after the town in Florida where it was recorded, is an effective next step for a duo infusing some sorely-needed realness into their genre.
From the opening moments of “Port Saint Joe,” it’s a blues-driven affair. Like virtually any other genre, country is a hodgepodge of disparate elements, but people are quick to take a label for face value, and see right past everything that label signifies. This is basically blues rock with a southern feel — very southern, bordering on self-parody. But it seems like that’s what Brothers Osborne are going for. The only way to really claim belonging to a genre is to borrow from the relevant lexicon, presenting clichés that have worn the test of time, and become recognizable enough to be instantly identifiable with your genre. If you’re bold enough — or shameless enough — depending on your perspective, you can truly bask in the glow, readily absorbing every signifier of a certain style, coming across, in the process, as a bit of a lunatic to outsiders, but as a hero or savior to devotees of your specific style. Such is the case with Brothers Osborne.
Rock ‘n’ roll started as a decidedly blues-derived form, although that legacy has all but vanished today. When you think of “rock,” it’s likely distorted guitars and power chords that come to mind. R&B still owes one of its letters to the form, but sounds more like gospel today, albeit with very different subject matter. And then you have jazz, in which all the blues was eclipsed by atonality, odd time signatures, etc. Country, it seems, has held on to the blues. It’s an advantage of being isolated. You can hear echoes of the rural blues of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, but a few levels removed. These guys relish their guitar playing, indulge in solo passages, and bend every other note. It’s loose and reflective at moments, but usually filtered, straightforward and on point. There’s always a basic beat, and it sounds like it’s meant to be played in dive bars.
“Weed, Whiskey, and Willie” encapsulates the Osbornes’ vibe pretty well. T.J. sings, “I’ve got bottles and bongs stacked to the ceiling / I get stoned for survival, it helps with the healin’ /And when it all goes to hell the only thing I believe in / Is weed, whiskey, and Willie.” There’s steady talk of inebriation and a devil-may-care attitude throughout the album. Three other song titles allude to drinking, “Shoot Me Straight,” “Tequila Again” and “Drank Like Hank,” making “Port Saint Joe,” if nothing else, a bit of fun for anyone who loves drinking. Heartbreak is another theme, standard country fare.
T.J. Osborne is a very different singer than, say, Chris Stapleton, a country favorite who bellows and bleats, and makes everything larger than life. Osborne is more restrained and subdued. He assumes the lower register, and incorporates as much twang as possible into every syllable. It’s an approach that lends itself to both the sound of the music and the subject matter. It’s a throwback to the style of classic country that has ended up in the shadows over the years, being replaced by big stadium fare that is far more gimmick and grandeur than heart. The brothers make nods to Willie and Hank, well aware of the legacy that they are infusing with new life. It’s a refreshing, welcome revival, which will surely excite fans of an atrophied genre, who have been longing to rekindle a spirit, and recapture the bare-bones, reckless passion.
‘Port Saint Joe’ is available April 20 on Apple Music