Brothers Osborne had just wrapped up another US tour when the band’s bus pulled into Port St. Joe – a sleepy beach town in the Florida Panhandle, tucked against the Gulf of Mexico – in April 2017. The guys had been on the road for nearly two years. Along the way, they’d transformed themselves from hungry newcomers into genuine stars, releasing four Top 40 US singles (all taken from the duo’s gold-selling debut album, Pawn Shop – re-issued in 2017 via Snakefarm Records in the UK) whilst racking up nearly a dozen Country Music Association Awards, Grammy nominations and Academy of Country Music trophies.
It was time to record a new album – one that doubled down on the Osborne’s guitar-driven sensibilities, whilst also showing off their growth as a live act. Jay Joyce, the band’s producer, had suggested they use his Florida beach house as a recording location, a place away from outside distractions. That’s how brothers and Maryland natives TJ and John Osborne found themselves in Port St. Joe, brushing sand from the tops of their beer cans and recording a new batch of songs, all co-written by the guys themselves, in Joyce’s oceanside home. The process felt raw, honest and uniquely homemade. It was different from the big-budget studio experience in Nashville, which suited the Osbornes just fine. “It wasn’t a real studio,” says John, who grew up alongside his younger brother in the similarly-sized waterfront town of Deale, MD, “It was a house. The place was in no way built for recording, which made it even cooler. We set up most of our equipment in the living room; the guitar amps were put in the master bathroom, and the drums were set up near the fireplace.”
Joined by long-time members of their touring band, TJ and John spent two weeks in that living room, recording the 10 songs that make up their second album, Port Saint Joe, released on April 20th via Snakefarm Records in the UK. With waves crashing onto the Florida shoreline outside, they captured most of the record in a series of live takes. Listen closely and you can make out the sounds of roaring water, wind, and even a few banging pots from the nearby kitchen, where Joyce’s brother whipped up daily meals for the crew.
It’s fitting that Brothers Osborne chose an unconventional location for the Port Saint Joe sessions. After all, TJ and John’s songs have always bent the traditional rules of roots music, bridging the gap between the mainstream and the alternative world. It’s here – in that grey area between genres – that they continue to pack the mightiest punch, with first single ‘Shoot Me Straight’ spectacularly proving the point.
Clocking in at six minutes plus, the song fires twin barrels of groove-heavy funk and swampy southern rock, with TJ’s baritone vocals and John’s fiery fretwork leading the charge. In some ways, it’s a close cousin to Pawn Shop’s biggest hit, ‘Stay a Little Longer’; both songs end with John’s extended guitar solos, which make them unlikely choices for radio singles, and yet both songs have become Top 40 US hits for the band, pointing to a diverse audience whose members were raised, like the Osbornes themselves, on a mix of blue-collar rock and classic country values.
“That song is literally just us jamming in a room,” smiles John. “One of the last nights we were at Jay’s beach house, we had some friends come down from Nashville. We had all been drinking and partying a little bit, and Jay wanted us to get in front of our friends and jam. That live performance was the take we kept. He wouldn’t let us fix anything, and I’m glad that he didn’t, because music can be so perfect these days. You can go back into the studio and fix anything you want, but this record isn’t like that. It’s a snapshot of what actually happened.”
The diversity continues throughout the album’s track-list. There are half-lit drinking songs, emotive ballads, southern slow jams and rootsy rave-ups, all captured by Joyce – the Grammy-winning producer, known for his work on Eric Church’s Mr. Misunderstood, Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller and Little Big Town’s The Breaker – and written by the Osbornes.
TJ and John teamed up with a number of co-writers, too. They penned ‘Weed, Whiskey and Willie’ with Laura Veltz (“That song is a lot like who we are as people – just a little bit darker and a little bit sadder than most artists in our world,” John reflects), finished ‘Pushing Up Daisies’ with Kendell Marvell (“It’s about the kind of love that will last past our own lives,” says TJ) and wrote ‘Me Before You’ with Shane McAnally.
Bookending the album are two standout songs about enjoying the moment: ‘Slow Your Roll’, a laid-back order to chill out and drink up, and ‘While You Still Can’, a reminder to make the most of your everyday interactions with loved ones.
The result is an album that’s both familiar and fresh, mixing classic country touchstones (the low, deep-seated twang of TJ’s voice, the rustic sound of mandolins and acoustic guitars, the story-based song-writing, etc.) with amplified guitars and memorable hooks. In short, an album for the modern age – forward-thinking and versatile, with songs that nod to the past while still pushing forward into new territory.
If Pawn Shop introduced Brothers Osborne, then Port St. Joe comprehensively defines them. “In making this record, we were very confident in who we are and what we are,” says TJ. And what is that? At their core, Brothers Osborne are a unique kind of duo — one that is rooted in TJ’s voice and John’s incendiary guitar playing. Most duos are built on a vocal foundation, but Brothers Osborne aren’t like most duos. And Port Saint Joe, with its rule-bending recording process and track-list, isn’t like most albums.
“Pawn Shop was a collection of songs, sounds and inspirations from when we were kids,” concludes John. “Port Saint Joe is a reflection of how far we’ve come since Pawn Shop — not only as people, but as songwriters, performers, singers and players. We’ve done so many shows collectively as a band. We’ve grown together as a unit. This is a reflection of the amount of work we’ve put in since Pawn Shop. It’s certainly a natural progression for us.”
Brothers Osborne will tour the UK in autumn 2018 and play Planet Rockstock in Porthcawl on 1st December. The album ‘Port Saint Joe’ is out now (on Snakefarm Records). Please go to: https://www.planetrock.com/events/planet-rock-live/planet-rockstock-2018/