BROTHERS OSBORNE’S DEBUT ALBUM IS A PAWN SHOP OF TREASURES
The idea of a pawn shop conjures up images of stolen goods, quick cash, and the loss of something valuable. It isn’t where you’d expect to find a collection of country songs that are musically in the present while telling stories of the past. There isn’t a dirt road or a pickup truck sitting outside this Pawn Shop. The black and white television on the cover of the album, which was also released in vinyl, makes me think there’s an old Cadillac in the parking lot with a James Dean type, Rebel Without a Cause leaning against it, pondering his future and his past. Once he lets go of what he’s been holding onto, he’ll take the cash and hit the road. There’s blue skies and “Greener Pastures” in the miles ahead, where the instrumentation often leads to unexpected turns in the road, but the lyrics describe those black and white memories in the rearview. For every item in the Pawn Shop, there’s a story, but don’t expect Brothers Osborne to drown those tales in whiskey. This nostalgic journey is best mixed with “Rum.”
The album opens with “Dirt Rich,” deep in tone with a bluesy groove, this one doesn’t go where you think it will. The backbeat grabs you from the beginning, pulling you off the front porch and denying any vision you may have had that this would be just another chicken pickin’ cliché. When the guitar riff kicks in towards the end, it adds depth and sophistication to an otherwise simple rendering of how life feels when you’re stuck in a rut. It’s an indication that even in meager surroundings the unexpected can happen. Love and music can make even a poor man feel rich, and that certain song can unlock a memory or a summer full of them. “21 Summer” is a sharp change of direction, with a windswept melody and a lighter groove. It’s easy to get lost in the miles listening to this one, as the music allows the lyrics their reflective glow while keeping the composition firmly rooted in the sound of the 21st century. You’ll want to stay awhile in the feeling this song evokes.
“Stay a Little Longer” allows you to do just that. It starts with the breezy feel of “21 Summer” and the memory of that special someone, but the guitar hints of its growing assertion, much like the adrenaline rush that leads to an unleashing of pent up passion. When the percussion and the guitar hit their stride, you’re already cheering the outcome. As the chorus builds and then pulls you back, the tension is mounting. The guitar has its way for a brief interlude, foreplay of a musical nature. Catch your breath. You’ll need it for the final minute of an all out grind that John Osborne’s guitar playing becomes. If you watch the video for this one, it’s a soundtrack for life becomes art, with a visual few were expecting. Their performance of this song led to a Grammy nomination for Best Country Duo/Group Performance prior to the release of this album. Another unexpected treasure found in the Pawn Shop.
The catchy title track is as likely to reel you in as the goods they’re selling in that “Pawn Shop.” The kick drum gives this one a low growl that feels like a sexy temptress, daring you to go inside the “Pawn Shop.” “One man’s pain is another man’s pleasure, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” accurately describes the give and take that happens in a “Pawn Shop” transaction. Instrumentally, it plays out between the drums and the slide of the guitar, like the haggling over a deal being made. Life is a matter of perspective, and like the diversity of goods in the “Pawn Shop,” it offers a spectrum of possibilities. Mix it with “Rum,” and you may have an entirely different outlook. To appreciate what the Brothers Osborne put into this song, watch the video. It’s a hometown collaboration that brings music and people together. The variety of instrumentation in this makes it all the more fun to listen to, and delightfully inventive. From the drumstick tapping on the wire basket to TJ Osborne playing tambourine with the bottom of his boots, this is a lesson in making the most of what you’ve got. “If we hadn’t hit the brakes, we’d have no idea, paradise was hidin’ right here.” When you hit the chorus, it’s a recipe for a happy life, “Two parts love and a pinch of good weather, And top it all off with the sun, And mix it with rum, mmm, mmm, mm, mm.”
With a sharp musical turn you’re unlikely to see coming, “Loving Me Back,” featuring Lee Ann Womack, is a throwback to the sound of some famous country pairings – Johnny and June, Kenny and Dolly, and Conway and Loretta. TJ Osborne and Lee Ann Womack blend strong voices and some gritty lyrics in a confession of the vices you can do without when you find the right person. On the strength of the opening acoustic strum, there is no doubt this is some serious sentimental songwriting. Even Jack Daniels can’t equal the burn these two achieve when they hit the climax of the chorus and the heavier guitar work kicks in. It’s fresh, yet already classic sounding, like you might find it on vinyl at a Pawn Shop. Whether it’s new, or just new to you, it all comes together in the “Pawn Shop.”
“American Crazy” starts with a drumbeat that sets the tone for the entire song. It’s familiarity and freedom across miles of open road, with an undeniable anthemic sound. Before TJ was finished with the first verse, I was feeling Springsteen in this. Inclusive and celebratory, the guitar riffs may well lead to “Dancing in the Dark” at a Brothers Osborne concert. “Greener Pastures” may well be the reason our James Dean type protagonist went to the “Pawn Shop” and took to the road. This is tongue-in-cheek lyrics that are as much about the solution as they are the problem. It’s got the sound of an old school country song wrapped in a 21st century recording of it. I feel like Willie Nelson might have left a few of those girls he’s loved before in this manner. “I don’t want this dirt no more, I’m tradin’ it for grass.” Nothing a little trip “Down Home” can’t fix, but you have to get off the highway for this one. It’s got a hard edge with a Southern rock feel, proving that every dirt road doesn’t lead to the same setting. “Dig a little deeper, drive a little further down an old dirt road.” The big guitar riffs in this are a throwback hallelujah for a sound we haven’t heard in awhile.
“Heart Shaped Locket” is an inspiration to keep driving, top down, wind blowing your hair around. There’s a question that needs answering here and a man on a mission. I hear a lot of Tom Petty in this, with the addition of some background singers that give it a more airy feel to offset the seriousness of the guitar work. With the intrigue in the lyrics, the backing band here may be foretelling their own Heartbreakers conclusion. The final track leads us to believe that the picture in that “Heart Shaped Locket” wasn’t our Rebel Without a Cause. “It Ain’t My Fault” sounds like an alibi, and lyrically, it covers everything past to present. It opens like the soundtrack to a getaway car with the drumbeat acting like an odometer and the guitar pushing the gas pedal closer to the floor. TJ’s defensive vocal, with the guitar work acting like a witness to his innocence, brings the album to a climactic close. As the music fades out, I can almost see the car disappear in the distance. I think our driver now has a passenger. Call them rebels with a cause.
Pawn Shop has brought together a collection of things you rarely find in a debut album – songwriting that shows sophistication and substance, a duo that has a strong musical identity with the chops to back it up, boldness in artistic expression that doesn’t cater to a specific audience, and a Grammy nominated song that makes a statement. Brothers Osborne included sounds of of the past and the present on this album, pulling them together for a relevant, fresh sound. It’s the sound of everything they grew up on and what built them as musicians. Their audience was the common man, and their success away from home hasn’t made them forget the treasures they found there. Pawn Shop plays like a mixtape and celebrates diversity, but there is a common thread – the constant of TJ’s strong, baritone voice and the depth of John’s guitar playing ability. It’s a robust combination that resonates in every song. I’ve tried picking a favorite off this album and found it impossible. There are 11 treasures in this Pawn Shop, and the goods are definitely hot.
Visit Brothers Osborne’s website: http://www.brothersosborne.com/
Purchase Pawn Shop on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/pawn-shop/id1067471571
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