Brothers Osborne – Skeletons
Jon Caramanica of the New York Times has coined the term ‘power country’ to refer to beefy rockin’ country music. Brothers Osborne, John and TJ, are just behind Luke Combs in the power country peloton. The pair have spent 2020 trailing Skeletons while being unable to play live. With a vaccine and some luck, they will win thousand more fans over 2021, especially thanks to the new album.
The album’s co-writers also include the crack pair of Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, who sprinkle some magic onto opening track Lighten Up, which is soaked in reverb and has TJ sing of guitars cranked up, drinks and lighters in the air. Casey Beathard writes Hatin Somebody and Side B opener High Note, which sounds like a radio single thanks to the production and a lyric which emphasises leaving a relationship on good terms.
That segues into a guitar boogie composed by John Osborne called Muskrat Greene and it would be remiss of me and every other reviewer not to note the passing of Eddie Van Halen this week, though John is far too humble to accept comparisons to the greatest guitar player of his era. This in turn segues into Dead Man’s Curve, which takes 99% of its inspiration from Charlie Daniels Band and the other 1% from Ace of Spades and rollicks along at some speed. I can’t wait to hear this one live.
I suppose I don’t need to tell you how the production brings out the songs, courtesy of the almighty Jay Joyce who seems to be a third member of the band by now. All Night is the correct choice of single: punchy, full of harmonies and lyrics like ‘I got the back if you got the beat’. Skeletons (‘I’ve got bones to pick with them’) is also a lot of fun, while other pre-released songs Hatin Somebody and I’m Not For Everybody make the personal political, which I think is the USP of Brothers Osborne.
The pair come from Maryland and after a decade of patience are emerging as one of country music’s top acts. Their parents must be overjoyed, and the tribute is returned thanks to John’s solo write. Old Man’s Boots is an ode to papa Osborne whose boots ‘weren’t built for speed or comfort but you can bet they were building something’. Musicians are working men too, learning their craft and the art of performance. No wonder Britain has taken John and TJ to heart, helped by John marrying Lucie Silvas, a singer who was based in Britain before decamping to Nashville.
The smart All The Good Ones Are is written by TJ with Craig Wiseman and Lee Thomas Miller, who are both experts in humour and character. The song is anchored by the phrase ‘not every…but all the good ones are!’ and the chorus is an elegy to a lady punctuated by trademark huge guitars.
The great Hayes Carll writes the third of the band’s drinking songs trilogy: we’ve had Rum and Tequila Again and now TJ is Back on the Bottle, where drinking is a substitute for loving and is a good way to close the first side. I like the tempo shift in the chorus. After While You Still Can on their second album, here we’ve the tremendous Make It A Good One (‘give all your heart to someone, leave nothing unsaid or undone’) as the brothers tell the listener how to live a country way of life.
This is country music for fans of classic rock. 5/5 and their best album so far.
Brent Cobb – Keep Em On They Toes
On the Thursday of Country Music Week, 22 October, there is a Destination Country live event with Brent Cobb. He’s a songwriting supremo in Nashville who has written songs for Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney and Little Big Town. His first album on Elektra came out in 2016, with the second following in 2018. Well done to producer Brad Cook who has spent 20 years working wonders with the likes of Bon Iver, Waxahatchee and the War on Drugs and has a website with the excellent domain name BradleyTime.com. All ten tracks are glorious in sound and Brent is mic’ed very well indeed. It’s so clear and I can hear every syllable.
If the credits are correct, then the lovely Good Times and Good Love was co-written with Luke Bryan. Brent turns it into a piano-and-fiddle tune of which Willie Nelson would be proud. It has that classic, homely feel of a Laurel Canyon masterpiece from 1969, with a winding melody that matches the sentiment. I think Brent has swallowed the discography of The Band, as it’s very rootsy and American.
This Side of the River mentions mud, overflowing streams, catfish and how you gotta ‘watch your step cos the current is swift’; Brent shows his fine songwriting skills by running with an idea and putting a decent song to the lyric. The World Is Ending, given its title, is suitably portentous with lots of minor chords and menace. Shut Up and Sing talks of ‘poison in our rhetoric and bullets in our schools’ while the music is aurally pleasant with some Scotty Moore slapback guitar. Dust Under My Rug has a fiendish solo and a rockabilly feel.
I really can’t place this album in an era – it takes every classic songwriter and blends them all together. Soapbox is definitely a modern take on Harry Nilsson, as Brent uses his record to put his voice on vinyl: ‘You might wear out my nerves but you ain’t changing my mind,’ Brent sings.
You’ll have a different favourite track when you listen to this, released via Thirty Tigers, one of the great indie labels of today. This is a delightful record by a craftsman who has done his homework and has delivered the equivalent of a Master’s thesis in song. 5/5.