Brothers Osborne's 'Port Saint Joe' Offers Riotous Southern Rock That Challenges Mainstream Country Music
Brothers Osborne's Port Saint Joe is an album that flirts with mainstream country while hearkening a bygone musical era.
Port Saint Joe
20 April 2018
Port Saint Joe is the highly anticipated sophomore album from Brothers Osborne. The duo, brothers T.J. and John, create a powerful and magnetic album that develops the centerpieces from their previous studio album Pawn Shop. Throughout T.J.'s unmistakable baritone and John's skillful guitar playing and mandolin picking are on show. Despite both of their musical dynamism, Brothers Osborne find a balance and develop a musical interplay where one bandmate never overshadows the other. Perhaps this is a quality only siblings can illicit. Regardless, Port Saint Joe is an album that flirts with mainstream country while hearkening a bygone musical era.
The 2017 ACM and CMA Vocal Duo of the Year decamped to Port Saint Joe, Florida to find inspiration and tranquility. Listeners are aurally alerted to their environmental influence as ocean waves open the album. Likewise, the first track "Slow Your Roll" conjures Floridian ataraxy when T.J. sings, "It's a down ship deep stress / Take yourself a deep breath." That was the Brother Osborne's mindset during the album's creation, and that energy is felt throughout.
That is not to say the album doesn't rock. In many instances John's guitar playing is so vehement the album evokes more of a rock 'n' roll sound than a twangy country feel. In "Shoot Me Straight", John's resolute guitar playing commandeers the track. While the song's length, nearly seven minutes, turns it into a gratifying exposition of his musical prowess. John's virtuosity endeared fans to Pawn Shop and his skill is recaptured in Port Saint Joe.
As heard in "A Couple Wrongs Makin' It Alright", T.J.'s voice is both hard hitting and playful. The entire album is enhanced with his with vocal cadences. T.J. endows Port Saint Joe with a rhythmic motion that nods to their soul and R&B influences. Even more, "Tequila Again" is a quintessential country waltz down to the 3/4 time signature and T.J. vocally emphasizing the first beat of each measure. Here, Brothers Osborne ratifies the '90s country music waltz heyday when Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt and Shania Twain all utilized the style.
John's heavy riffing and T.J.'s booming baritone shape Port Saint Joe. Yet, right when it seems they're verging on musical machismo, they carefully thread in a tender quality. The track "A Little Bit of Trouble" specifically deals with the threat of pending heartache that's impossible to avoid since new love is so consuming. That is captured eloquently when T.J. sings, "Whoever said nothing good ever happens after midnight / Has probably never seen how the moonlight shines on you / Let's take a little chance and our romance dancing in the headlights / Let's lose track of time." Similarly, "Pushing Up Daisies (Love Alive)" deals with love so entrenched that only death could end the feeling. As such, Brothers Osborne demonstrate the complexity of human emotion and their own musicality.
As heard in Pawn Shop's "Greener Pastures", Port Saint Joe does not shy away from Brothers Osborne's pro-marijuana stance. The song "Weed, Whiskey and Willie" alliteratively extols the virtues of pot. As they sing "I get stoned for survival, it helps with the healin'". The track's bluesy tone echoes the emotional void marijuana bridged and likely that Floridian mellow. Here Brothers Osborne present a nuanced understanding of weed's medical viability rather than a Schedule I drug.
Despite the social consciousness, "Weed, Whiskey and Willie" imitates elements of the party-country sound. It is easy to overlook the song's progressive narrative and just hear a trite coupling of partying and Willie Nelson. A similar vibe is evident in "Drank Like Hank" which celebrates a Hank Williams-esque "buzz and a hundred-proof chug". Later the song even idolizes George Jones when they sing "yeah, we partied like the Possum". Both Williams' and Jones' addictions were problematic. It is interpretable that juxtaposing the country legends' addictions is acknowledging the dangers of alcoholism. But that message is lost to the exaltation of carousing and a messy glorification of alcoholism.
However, Brothers Osborne offer more musical depth and awareness than other pop-country acts. Brothers Osborne's sound is raw, it can be vulnerable and in the next beat anthemic. In doing so, Port Saint Joe offers riotous Southern rock that unequivocally fits and challenges contemporary mainstream country.