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Brothers Osborne - Port Saint Joe (Album Review)

Wednesday, 02 May 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

In its purest (some would say most noble) form, artistic expression presents us with an undiluted, singular vision. Alas, whether it’s record company meddling, meeting fan expectations, satisfying commercial trends or striving to make a living, it’s hard for musicians to adopt this idealistic approach while dealing with real world pressures. Hailing from Deale in Maryland, the Brothers Osborne have certainly given it a good, albeit flawed, go on this follow up to 2016’s ‘Pawn Shop’.  

Mixing traditional blue collar country with rootsy genre-hopping sojourns, their debut effort showcased a burgeoning musical identity rich with salt-of-the-earth authenticity. Yet the presence of hollow bro-country clichés (girls in cut-off jeans) sometimes undermined their credentials, eliciting the feeling that concessions had been made in the name of radio airplay. And that’s something the more eclectic ‘Port Saint Joe’ would seem to validate.

Having decamped to producer Jay Joyce’s Floridian beach house to record this album, T.J and John Osborne were cut off from Nashville’s more unhealthy influences.

From the moment gentle waves usher in Slow Your Roll, it’s clear that the change of scenery allowed them to relax and make a sprawling sophomore effort more consistently reflective of their broad sound and expansive skillset.

Shoot Me Straight and Drank Like Hank are bluesy southern rock stompers, with the former serving up a dazzling three minute jam band coda that channels the spirit of their live shows. Either side of a funky and soulful breakdown, John’s sizzling guitar solo is as impeccably constructed as it spontaneous, climaxing with the kind of lightning arpeggio run you might expect from an ‘80s shredder.

There’s a valid argument to be made that this record, no doubt influenced by where it was cut, is too laid back and needs more of those moments. That said, it’s hard not to love sun-kissed charmers like I Don’t Remember Me (Before You), not to mention the mandolin waltz of Tequila Again, A Couple Of Wrongs Makin’ It Alright’s fiesta of New Orleans funk and the trippy soul psychedelia of A Little Bit of Trouble.

Some may find the Brothers hard to peg, but their ability to jump all over the Americana map, while underpinning such travels with musicianship that, regardless of style, boasts a distinctive character, makes them a great modern country band.

John’s guitar is more to the fore on ‘Port Saint Joe’ and his rhythmic work – in tandem with bassist Pete Sternberg and drummer Adam Box – gives each song a powerful, idiosyncratic groove. The music’s emotional heartbeat, meanwhile, comes from T.J. Gifted with the perfect voice for country, his baritone sounds like it’s been coated in liquor and sawdust as he either croons with a husky soulfulness or bellows like a grizzled biker.

If there’s a problem here it’s that, in spite of claims they’ve put everything of themselves into this record, most lyrics don’t sound overly personal and often default to generic tropes. Songs about drinking and chilling out, for example, could have been penned by any country songsmith. Likewise, referencing Hank Williams, as well as Willie Nelson in the context of weed, has been done to death and is unnecessarily reverential for a duo who, courtesy of colourful interviews and Twitter posts, are known for speaking out on a variety of social issues with a refreshing, uncensored candour.

The Brothers Osborne definitely have it in them to make a classic album and ‘Port Saint Joe’ is a crucial step towards such an achievement. Once they spread their lyrical wings in a way that matches their musical ones, and deliver forward thinking storytelling that really captures the essence of their spirited character, this band will truly fly.

Brothers Osborne Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri May 04 2018 - DUBLIN Academy
Sat May 05 2018 - BELFAST Limelight
Mon May 07 2018 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol
Tue May 08 2018 - BRIGHTON Brighton Concorde 2
Wed May 09 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham
Fri May 11 2018 - LONDON KOKO
Sat May 12 2018 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Sun May 13 2018 - GLASGOW O2 ABC

Click here to compare & buy Brothers Osborne Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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