“I think people are tired of the bullshit and are ready for the real substance”, John Osborne told Rolling Stone.
This one has been a long time coming. Three singles and just over two years in, TJ and John Osborne have released their first album, ‘Pawn Shop’, which is quite frankly a stunning debut. If there is such thing as alt-country nowadays, this is it. The seamless mix of bluegrass, roots and country influences, whilst maintaining catchy hooks to appeal to a mainstream market, results in a truly impressive collection of tracks which deserves every success it is bound to achieve.
The pair’s most recent single, ‘Stay A Little Longer’, which peaked at #5 on the Billboard country singles chart, has been the driving force behind ‘Pawn Shop’. Co-written with critically acclaimed writer Shane McAnally, the song is narrated by somebody who tries to convince himself himself he is not in love, despite the clear signs. With the combination of TJ’s deep, gritty vocals, a thumping backbeat and incredibly catchy chorus, it is no surprise that it has been a huge hit. On the album, there is an extended version of the track with an absolutely killer guitar solo which pushes the energy of the track up another notch.
The highlight of the album is most definitely ‘21 Summer’, a melodically stunning piece of music which has a lovely warmth, wrapping you up in its simple yet beautiful instrumentation. Co-written with Craig Wiseman, who has written tracks including ‘Live Like You Were Dying’ for Tim McGraw and ‘Voices’ for Chris Young, ’21 Summer’ just oozes quality from start to finish. I absolutely love the subtle use of electric guitar in the chorus, which creates such a laid-back, atmospheric feel.
‘American Crazy’ is another personal highlight. This one is truly tailored for a Brothers Osborne live show. The hook “We’re lost, we’re found, we’re up, we’re down, we’re all just American crazy” is a genius piece of song-writing once again from Ross Copperman – writer of Kenny Chesney’s ‘Pirate Flag’, Billy Currington’s ‘Don’t It’ and Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Confession’ amongst many others. He has acquired a knack of writing such effective, infections lyrics which ultimately result in major hit records. ‘American Crazy’ could be another one to add to that impressive collection.
Although, it has to be said that TJ and John are not afraid to expose their slightly rockier influences with a couple of rather heavy tracks that walk on the wild side. The final track ‘It Ain’t My Fault’ in particular is an opportunity for them to let loose with the electric guitars, and producer Jay Joyce’s input is clear on this one. Joyce produced Eric Church’s ‘The Outsiders’ album as well as Little Big Town’s ‘Pain Killer’ album, and ‘It Ain’t My Fault’ is reminiscent of the more experimental approach to Joyce’s previous projects.
A favourite for TJ and John is ‘Loving Me Back’, a duet with country legend Lee Ann Womack, which the brothers claim is one of the biggest honours they have had so far in their careers. TJ’s gritty vocals and Lee Ann’s angelic vibrato fit seamlessly in a track which is one of the most memorable on the album. Surrounded by tracks with thumping back beats, ‘Loving Me Back’ is a welcome relief and it is refreshing to hear such a raw ‘country’ tune nowadays.
Every track has its place on ‘Pawn Shop’ – there are certainly no ‘fillers’ here. With this debut album, TJ and John have sent out a clear message. They are going to do it their way, producing music which is reminiscent of their musical heroes, ignoring the demand for mainstream, pop-orientated sounds. This is a very promising start for the brothers, and if they continue to work with such critically acclaimed song-writers and stick to their roots musically, we could have another very successful duo on our hands.
Twitter – @LifeInASong_UK @Flatthead_Dan