REVIEW: Skeletons by Brothers Osborne (EMI Nashville/October 9, 2020)
Photo courtesy of Brothers Osborne and EMI Nashville
Go ahead, open the closet door. Oh, you’ll find skeletons in there, as well as some heart-pumping moments, but rest assured, it’ll all be worth it. The new Brothers Osborne album, Skeletons, is a shining example of why this country duo has racked up six Grammy nominations, four CMA Awards, five ACM trophies, been named CMA Duo of the Year three times and ACM Duo of the Year twice. John and TJ Osborne are rock stars in the country music universe.
For a couple of brothers that hail from a blue collar background in Deale, Maryland, they’re doing pretty well. Their debut album, Pawn Shop, was their introduction to the world and immediately sent them soaring. The record included two platinum-certified songs, “Stay A Little Longer” and “It Ain’t My Fault” and the Top 25 hit, “21 Summer”. Their sophomore project, Port Saint Joe, showed off their progressive side. The singles “Shoot Me Straight” and “I Don’t Remember Me (Without You)” both made the Top 40. With two successful albums under their belt, it wasn’t going to be easy for number three. Their sound was already very clearly etched into the minds of fans, so anything too far from what they were used to probably wouldn’t be received all that well. They had to maintain their core style, yet bring in fresh songs that would catch fire quickly with listeners. Their was no room for easing up on creativity at this stage of the game.
I found the quote above a while back and I loved it. I thought it was especially appropriate for this review. It would have taken a mediocre duo to sit back on their laurels and make a third album that slid through with a passing grade. Once you’ve listened to Skeletons from top to bottom, you’ll know the Brothers Osborne are far from mediocre. These guys demanded a lot more of themselves, and what’s more, they asked it of their touring band members this time. Rather than using session musicians for Skeletons, Brothers Osborne brought in their entire road band to play on this record. Did they prove worthy? Hell, yes they did. One might even say you would never know the difference. All of the camaraderie that’s developed over the years, playing gigs together, rolling away the hours on buses and wasting time during backstage hangs, formulated a cohesive brotherhood that bleeds through all over this project. It’s almost like listening to a live album in certain parts. You get a welcoming, informal feel, juxtaposed with a completely professional production. Credit the band with the casual coolness. Give props to producer extraordinaire, Jay Joyce (Pawn Shop/Brothers Osborne, Storyteller/Carrie Underwood) for the precision. In a nutshell, they upped their game considerably this time. Mediocrity isn’t a word in their vocabulary.
“Our concerts are big, loud rock shows” says John Osborne. “We wanted to make a record where, no matter which song we cherrypicked from the tracklist, we’d be able to do it during our show.” Safe to say that goal has been met. Not only that, but Skeletons could easily serve as a gateway record for your diehard rock friends that need to be introduced to country with kid gloves. What I mean is, they need something with meat on its bones to keep their attention. This could very well be it. I’m a rock fan at heart, and I fully endorse this project as one with a whole lotta rock goin’ on in there.
First thing’s first. When listening to Skeletons, turn up the volume! This is not Sunday church music, let it rip! The opening track, “Lighten Up” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk) begins with a dreamy, almost psychedelic groove, abruptly morphing into a drum-pounding, string bender that suggests we all cool our jets and ignore the outside forces that bring us down.
“Maybe everybody could lighten up
When the goin’ gets a little tough
Give a little love and put your lighters in the air and light ’em up”
The guitar solo will have listeners closing their eyes, while their head sways as they imagine being at a big concert, totally immersed in the experience. Right from track one, this record sets itself up for one thing, we all miss live music, not live streamed music, but the real deal. We need it more than we ever knew.
Already a single, “All Night” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Andrew DeRoberts) is a straight up party tune. With its slick guitar tricks and fun lyrics, it has all the ingredients to make it mainstream radio-friendly and live show gold.
Video courtesy of Brothers Osborne, VEVO and YouTube
One of the album’s banner songs is track number three, “All The Good Ones Are” (TJ Osborne, Lee Miller, Craig Wiseman). Not a shock with hitmakers like Lee Miller and Craig Wiseman joining TJ Osborne in the creation of this bad boy, but Holy Hell, this is big, bold and better than all the unsavory, yet deliciously enjoyable stuff described in the song. TJ Osborne’s deep, commanding vocals rock fast here, keep up.
“Every bad decision ain’t a suicide mission
Demolition right from the start
But all the good ones are”
“I’m Not For Everyone” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Luke Dick, Natalie Hemby) hit me in a personal way. Editing this portion more than a few times, I finally decided to throw it all out there. This track could have been written about my husband, word for word. Midtempo, with lyrics that are easy to catch on to, this one is all about transparency of self. Maybe the singer isn’t a charm school graduate. Maybe he’s flawed in ways that wouldn’t score him any points at a high society function, but guess what? He still has some fans. I couldn’t love this tune more if I’d written it myself. This might just be the one we play at my husband’s funeral. Best of all, I bet most of us know someone who fits these lyrics. Should I meet up with any of these writers in the future, I’m going to thank them for this. What a gift, at least to me personally.
“Some people are just like me
I hope y’all forgive ’em”
You know, I recently read an article about how bands choose their title track. Damned if I remember where I read it or who wrote it, huge mistake on my part for not writing it down, it was a good one. There were all kinds of reasons. Some self-title, often for debut records. Some pick a track off the album that they feel represents the whole thing. Some just look at a picture of a boat on the wall and think something nautical sounds cool. The list is endless. For the Brothers Osborne’s Skeletons it won’t take a genius to realize there’s a song on the album by the same name, and let’s agree that it’s a badass word for what can easily be described as a country record with a generous dose of heavy rock. It was the right title, especially after hearing the song itself. This is a monster and I can hardly stand the wait to see it performed live. I can only pray I’m somewhere near the front when I do, so I can see every last drop of sweat it must take to churn this thing out.
Here’s where you’ll know that recording with their own band was a grand decision. This is nothing short of an extravaganza for the ears. I can’t help myself from envisioning it being played live in concert by these wizards of the music world. Finding oneself on the wrong side of a love triangle is a dark place to be. That’s just where this song takes us. Through the brilliant vocals and a band that utilizes every bit of savvy imaginable, we crash land in the ominous existence of a betrayed lover. It smolders until it ignites into a turbulent, almost-rock orchestral inferno. A true masterpiece worthy of all the award nominations. “Skeletons” was co-written by John Osborne, TJ Osborne and Andrew DeRoberts.
Video (Audio) courtesy of Brothers Osborne, VEVO and YouTube
For those that prefer a more traditional country feel, there’s “Back On The Bottle” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Hayes Carll). The company line calls this the duo’s tribute to the late Merle Haggard, and I’d say they did a fine job. A slightly stronger proof than any of Haggard’s tunes, but still within the same top shelf, this is pretty darned country. It has a rousing, honky tonk singalong vibe that’ll liven up any party with a little more volume.
Ready for an actual ballad? There is one. “High Note” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Casey Beathard, Dustin Christensen) is actually a breakup song of sorts, but it has a positive spin, along with a creative play on words. Just add intoxicants.
“Before the smoke clears
Let’s agree that’s all she wrote
Let’s say goodbye, say goodbye
On a high note”
Hats off to John Osborne, who wrote “Muskrat Greene”. I can’t even fathom what kind of volcanic activity must have transpired in the studio while recording this track. It’s a wild ride of an instrumental that combines elements of funk, bluegrass, jazz piano and hints of southern rock in the vein of Blackfoot’s “Train, Train”. Oddly enough, many of the components that contribute to today’s country sound can be heard within this one song. It’s a freefall that’s most effective through good headphones with a shot or two of quality bourbon.
If you’re listening to each song in order (which I recommend), you won’t crash into solid ground after “Muskrat Greene” because you’ve got “Dead Man’s Curve” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Lee Miller) right on its heels. This is a fast and furious warning to country boys everywhere, steer clear of that girl. There are difficult obstacles working against you and you’re not going to win. Nobody does. If TJ Osborne ever thought about switching gears and turning to rap, here’s proof he could probably do it. He’s quick. There’s some seriously fast pickin’ going on too. Not for the faint of heart, “Dead Man’s Curve” goes from zero to way over-the-speed limit before you know it.
“Dead Man’s Curve, Dead Man’s Curve
No redemption, no return
Good God Almighty, gonna crash and burn down Dead Man’s Curve
Dead Man’s Curve, Dead Man’s Curve
Country boys ain’t never gonna learn
Nobody ever makes it through that turn
Dead Man’s Curve, Dead Man’s Curve”
If you’re looking for a song with some real meaning, one you can listen to every day for the rest of your life and keep in your back pocket for whenever you need it, it’s sitting right there at track number 10. “Make It A Good One” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Stephen Wilson, Jr.) is one of those life lesson type numbers that we all probably need right now. We all go around once. We all need to make it count. A simple message we sometimes need to be reminded of. Times are hard these days. Nobody is immune to feeling confused or hopeless, but time is still moving forward and we have to remember that. Everything we’re accustomed to has been altered, but we have to roll with it and find ways to make the best of it because that clock keeps on ticking all the same. That’s what this song is about. It’s a beauty.
“If you wanna make the Good Lord laugh, tell him your plans”
Another single from the album, “Hatin’ Somebody” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Casey Beathard) is one we all should be listening to. Today’s political climate is tumultuous. People are arguing non-stop. Long friendships are disintegrating over politics and that’s so sad. There used to be a time, and I remember it well, when people didn’t openly talk about things like that. I remember my parents would never tell me who they were voting for. I would ask and they would tell me it was none of my business. I still don’t know who they voted for in any of the Presidential elections in my lifetime. As it should be. It kept me from telling my friends, who might have told their parents and started something that didn’t need to be started.
We’re long past that time now, especially with social media. Now it’s a free-for-all with everyone putting their opinion out there and in the end, will it matter? No. People don’t change their minds. Whatever brought you together with your friends to begin with probably wasn’t politics at all. Stick with those commonalities. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a whole new divide and people are pulling away from each other over that. We’re all humans. We come into this world one way and we all die, and we spend a lot longer time dead than we do alive. What happens during those living years is up to us. We can all sit around bickering with each other or meet in the middle. Leave the subjects that cause friction out of the picture. It’s simply not worth it. This track’s hip, amped-up island flavor just drives home the fact that wasting our time hating anyone is just that, a waste of time. Try buying a guy on the opposite end of the political spectrum a beer. Ask him about his favorite ball team or what band he likes (if he doesn’t say Brothers Osborne, throw a plug in). If he gets on politics, call the bartender over and buy him a shot. Keep lining ’em up until he forgets who he’s voting for. This stuff needs to stop. Those politicians? They’re going to die too someday.
Video courtesy of Brothers Osborne, VEVO and YouTube
Sentimentality mixed with sensibility. That’s what “Old Man’s Boots” (John Osborne) says to me. Brought up in a working-class family, the Brothers Osborne understand what it means to be regular guys. This is country music storytelling at its finest. A nod to the blue collar working man told via an old pair of steel-toed boots. Boots that helped pay the bills (most of the time). Simple, descriptive and real. If you had a father that worked the kind of a job that required him to throw on a pair of boots every day, you might just relate. To say they saved the best for last might not be completely accurate, because this is a record that’s just about flawless from start to finish, but this is a treasure.
“They weren’t flashy, they weren’t classy
But they made him workin’ class happy
And I’d be lucky, I’d be lucky
To walk a mile in my old man’s boots”
Third time’s the charm. That’s how the old saying goes, right? Not so for the Brothers Osborne. They didn’t fail with their first two outings, but they sure did prove that they aren’t settling in with their success. With Skeletons, they have raised the bar so high, it’s going to be interesting to see what they can do next. I can only think of one way to close this, and that’s by saying this album had better grab up some award nominations at the very least. Everything about it is right. Everything.
Photo courtesy of Brothers Osborne and EMI Nashville
Skeletons Track List:
- “Lighten Up” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk)
- “All Night” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Andrew DeRoberts)
- “All The Good Ones Are” (TJ Osborne, Lee Miller, Craig Wiseman)
- “I’m Not For Everyone” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Luke Dick, Natalie Hemby)
- “Skeletons” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Andrew DeRoberts)
- “Back On The Bottle” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Hayes Carll)
- “High Note” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Casey Beathard, Dustin Christensen)
- “Muskrat Greene” (John Osborne)
- “Dead Man’s Curve” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Lee Miller)
- “Make It A Good One” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Stephen Wilson, Jr.)
- “Hatin’ Somebody” (John Osborne, TJ Osborne, Casey Beathard)
- “Old Man’s Boots” (John Osborne)
Brothers Osborne Website: https://www.brothersosborne.com/
*Featured image courtesy of Brothers Osborne and EMI Nashville