Album Discussion: Brothers Osborne’s “Port Saint Joe”
The Florida Panhandle is its own country. It’s a state within its own state. Unique, filled with dangerous but beautiful nature. Peaceful and relaxed but yet still holding on to pieces of culture from a bygone era, when oyster boats dotted the Gulf and the fishermen were plentiful. It isn’t quite 100% Southern…there’s too much Florida in it. But the Florida Panhandle retains enough of Southern culture and the mythos of the American South to claim a direct relationship with the Redneck Riviera and Lower Alabama and Georgia.
Brothers Osborne masterfully embody the spirit of the Florida Panhandle with their sophomore album Port Saint Joe. Named, appropriately, after the small hamlet on the Panhandle in which the album was recorded, Port Saint Joe brilliantly mixes redneck honky-tonk with progressive, Byrds-like influence. Much was expected after their debut Pawn Shop received rave reviews and after the brothers picked up wins at both the CMAs and ACMs. Maybe Port Saint Joe wasn’t quite what some were expecting, and yet, TJ and John Osborne still delivered in a big way.
Few artists set out to make whole records today. Even artists who claim to value records don’t necessarily meet their own expectations of a seemless, well-put together collection of songs. That isn’t a problem here. From the transition between the first and second tracks of the album, “Slow Your Roll” and “Shoot Me Straight” respectively, the album flows along like Apalachicola River, groovy and meandering, with twists, turns, and a hint of danger along the way.
There seems to be this misconception that a “full album” must mean that it’s a concept album. In reality, however, a complete album can mean a lot of things. In the case of Port Saint Joe, it’s a collection of songs that represents where Brothers Osborne are at the moment, and it truly feel like it is the album they’ve been waiting and wanting to make.
Making the album they wanted is key. Brothers Osborne weren’t some flash in the pan act who came out of nowhere when they released Pawn Shop. They’d been in Nashville for over ten years trying to get their break. It’s worth listening to their interview with Chris Shiflett on “Walking the Floor” to get a better idea of all the brothers went through before even landing a record deal. All their hard work and paying their dues led to this moment. I’m not sure what the next album will sound like, but like TJ and John have said many times, they’re not in the music business to make money. They’re here to play guitar, sing, and hopefully change mainstream country for the better. So far, they’re succeeding.
What makes Port Saint Joe really stand out to me is the wide array of country and country-rock influences. Sometimes no distinguishing sound can be a detriment to artists, but for Brothers Osborne, who specialize in weird and left-of-center production, the multitude of sounds and influences meshes together brilliantly. There’s Jerry Reed country funk on “ A Couple Wrongs Makin’ It Alright.” I can’t be the only one who noticed the similarities to ol’ Jerry’s “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.” “Shoot Me Straight” is like a mix between outlaw country and The Outsiders-era Eric Church. “Tequila Again” is reminiscent of The Byrds with Gram Parsons. It’s breezy and sounds like it could’ve been picked out of some Los Angeles record store. The West Coast-country sound can also be found on “Pushing Up Daisies (Love Alive).” There’s a wistfulness, longing, and aching to the California-country. And the two tracks I just mentioned pull right from the playbook for artists who want to find that Eagles, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris sound.
Then you have “Drank Like Hank.” Fans who enjoyed “It Ain’t My Fault” will no doubt appreciate the in-your-face honky-tonkin’ of “Drank Like Hank.” Country music is full of myth and tragic endings. The two legends mentioned in “Drank Like Hank”- George Jones and Hank Williams- met two different fates. The Possum overcame his demons to live a long, can you believe he survived all that shit?! life while Hank died in the back of a Cadillac on his way to a show in 1953 at the age of 29. I understand the fine-line that exists between honoring legends and the lessons that can be learned from their lives. But the fact does remain that Hank and George lived mythic, epic lives that are a part of the country music story. The stories have been cultivated and turned into legend. There are lessons to be learned about the way the two lived their lives, but removing the demons from the history of country would remove part of the backbone of the genre. Country is not a genre that can be white-washed. It’s real. It’s tough. And it’s true.
It was easy, after “It Ain’t My Fault,” to pigeonhole Brothers Osborne as a party-hard, pure country rock duo. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The brothers are experts at sentimentality and slowing things down when they need to. Like some of the best artists in country music, Brothers Osborne aren’t one-trick ponies. They could’ve released an album to chase number one’s and radio airplay. Yet they doubled-down on their sound and released what will be one of the best albums of the year.
Brothers Osborne come from a bygone era of country. They’re real as it gets, and they took a big risk with many of the songs on this album. They speak their minds without fear of retribution. In an era of music where artists chase trends across all genres, Brothers Osborne do what they know best- be themselves. They’re outlaws. From the way they make their music to the way they voice their opinions, TJ and John are one-of-a-kind. Like the Florida Panhandle, which cannot be pigeonholed into one specific geographical and cultural area, Brothers Osborne are going to always be true to themselves- seemless mixing past and the present.
For fans of: Eric Church, Jerry Reed’s funkiest side, unique production, people who drink both tequila and whiskey, The Cadillac Three
Favorite tracks: “Shoot Me Straight,” “Tequila Again,” “A Couple Wrongs Makin’ It Alright,” and “A Little Bit Trouble.”