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Brothers Osborne – ‘Brothers Osborne’ album review

Reigning CMA Duo of the Year, Brothers Osborne return with their fourth studio album and a whole bunch of open, defiant and celebratory messages. Since their last album, the heavier, Southern-rock leaning ‘Skeletons’, John and TJ Osborne’s life has been a whirlwind. TJ came out as gay and John revealed his struggles with depression at the same time as becoming a father of twins! This turbulence seems to have given them a fresh perspective on life and with this self-titled, fourth album, in itself an explicit message of where they think they are in their careers and who they think they are, Brothers Osborne have made themselves the flag-bearers of defiant, progressive and inclusive Country music, something they refer to themselves as ‘Big Tent Country’, a little bit of everything for everyone.

You can either be Maren Morris and reject a genre at odds with your own values or you can be John and TJ Osborne and lead the push for change from within. This album plants a flag in the ground and winks at the anti-everything nay-sayers, smiles and then does the Neo (The Matrix) hand gesture and says, ‘Come at me, bro.’

‘Brothers Osborne’ will, undoubtedly take some listeners and some lazy website reviewers by surprise. If it was the heavy, rock-leaning ‘Skeletons’ that was your introduction to this band then you might be left thinking at the end of the tight, 34 minute, punky 11 song set what happened to John and his guitars? This is not a ‘John Osborne’ album. The guitars are a little muted and what there is is funkier than the riffage and histrionics of ‘Skeletons.’ It took me back a little at first, given that John Osborne is my favourite guitarist in Country music. However, this is an album where the songs, the vibes and the messages come first. Some people, unwilling to look beyond comparisons with the duo’s previous work, will bail or write lazy and badly written reviews questioning whether this is the right move for the duo to make. You have to look deeper, you have to understand the mindset of where these two talented musicians were in the making of this album and when you give the songs time to breathe and a little understating then you’ll reap the most rewards.

There are inclusive and positive messages all over this album. Opener, ‘Who Says You Can’t Have Everything’ pushes that celebratory message about being grateful for what you have. ‘I’m alive and kicking, laid back and living the dream,’ TJ sings at one point on this drum driven, uplifting song. There are some neat guitar flourishes around the edges here but the message and the song come first.

The duo have taken some brave and bold production choices on this album too. Gone is the swampy Southern rock of ‘Skeletons’, instead replaced by a very drum-driven, percussive feel and some expansive 80s sounding synths and sounds. Think Robert Palmer, think the Steve Miller Band, think Prince for the stylistic touchstones here. On a song like ‘Nobody’s Nobody’ the duo mix more positive messages with an 80s-leaning, Robert Palmer-esque Pop-Rock vibe. ‘It takes all kinds of kinds to make this world go round,’ TJ sings as John noodles away in the background to his heart’s content. On ‘Love You Too’ the brothers stick a middle finger up to all the haters out there with another drum driven banger. There’s a 70s influence at play here that winds it’s way through ‘New Bad Habit’ and ‘We Ain’t Good at Breaking Up’ to arrive at ‘Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That’, Brothers Osborne’s first ever Disco song! The vibe here is ‘I Was Made for Loving You’ by rock legends Kiss, for sure. It’s a fun, experimental, tongue-in-cheek song that I can hear Kerrang magazine readers gnashing their teeth over and shaking their heads but, ironically, John gets to unleash some Prince-style guitar histrionics in the second half as the song builds towards it’s Travolta-esque climax. TJ puts more positive, uplifting messages out into the world and we get to listen to a duo really pushing their creative boundaries and daring the listener to come along with them for the ride.

Talking of rides, special mention must go to album closer, ‘Rollercoaster (Forever and a Day)’ We’ve never had a big diva-ballad from the Osborne boys before but now we have! Think Elton John at his pompous yet heartfelt 70s and 80s best here. ‘Rollercoaster’ has a lovely, delicate chorus about the seasons, rain, falling and flying which is handled deftly and with passion by TJ. Some neat, Meta-style lyrics about writing the verses and not knowing what to say gives a very personal feel to the song and when the ‘Disney’ strings kick-in towards the end you are left, if you’ve bothered enough to come with the duo on their journey, understanding just how important this song is to them.

For fans of Brothers Osborne’s second album, ‘Port Saint Joe’ and it’s left-of-centre, weed smelling maƱana vibes, you’ll love ‘Sun Ain’t Even Gone Down Yet’ with its lawn chair and day drinking atmosphere whilst ‘Back Home’ is a straight-down-the-line tribute to hometowns with a lighter touch and a killer melody on the chorus.

Alongside the messages, the disco and the laid-back rock you’ll find some of Brothers Osborne’s most funkiest work to date on this album. ‘New Bad Habit’ is another drum-driven anthem that exists in that space where Robert Palmer meets Bob Seger. TJ gets to cut loose here and exude a little sexuality whilst John’s cool guitar solo is straight out of the ’80s rock excess’ playbook. ‘Might As Well be Me’ finds the duo straying into guitar pop with an 80s western feel! ‘It ain’t a rule without breaking it, it ain’t love without making it,’ TJ sings on this ballsy, bombastic obvious contender for s single that sounds like it could have been recorded in 1988.

Throw in the very atmospheric, nay, mesmeric ‘Goodbye’s Kickin In’, which is possibly the most unique and original song on the album with its funky, R&B backing vocals which gives off the vibe of Backstreet Boys meets Ike and Tina Turner and the delightful ‘We Ain’t Good at Breaking Up’ with its Fleetwood Mac leaning story of two people who just can’t quit each other and a female vocal that adds a slightly hypnotic feel to the harmonies whilst John channels his inner Clapton underneath and you’ve got an album of broad, daring and brave choices.

‘Brothers Osborne’ is unlike anything that this talented duo have ever recorded before. Sure, you can hear snippets of the past and see where the genealogy of these 11 songs come from but this is a bold and audacious project that bristles with joy, defiance and a celebratory machismo that runs through these songs like lettering through a stick of rock. In this phase of their career, the song comes first and the message next. It feels like we are listening to two musicians who have been let off the leash: freed of genre constraints and expectations they have crafted an uplifting and bombastic album that defies pigeonholing. Some listeners won’t know what to do with this whilst others will not have the depth or patience to strap themselves in for the ride. We do and we’ll be sticking our middle fingers up out of the window alongside John and TJ for as long as they will have us!

Tracklisting: 1. Who Says You Can’t Have Everything 2. Nobody’s Nobody 3. Might as Well be Me 4. Sun Ain’t Even Going Down Yet 5. Goodbye’s Kickin In 6. Love You Too 7. New Bad Habit 8. We Ain’t Good at Breaking Up 9. Back Home 10. Ain’t Nobody Got the Time for That 11. Rollercoaster (Forever and a Day) Release Date: 15th September Record Label: Capitol / EMI Buy ‘Brothers Osborne’ now

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Reigning CMA Duo of the Year, Brothers Osborne return with their fourth studio album and a whole bunch of open, defiant and celebratory messages. Since their last album, the heavier, Southern-rock leaning 'Skeletons', John and TJ Osborne's life has been a whirlwind. TJ came...Brothers Osborne - 'Brothers Osborne' album review