It takes some gumption to call your country duo Brothers Osborne when people still remember country duo the Osborne Brothers, who scored bluegrassy hits like “Rocky Top” back in the ‘60s, but baritone-singing brother T.J. Osborne and his guitar-slinging big brother John seem to be pulling it off.
They come from Deale, a fishing village (pop. 5,000) on the Chesapeake Bay in central Maryland. After earning their keep covering rock and country classics there for a number of years, they graduated to club gigs, then tours with Darius Rucker and Eric Church. They put out their first single on EMI Nashville, “Let’s Go There,” in late 2013.
The hit “Stay a Little Longer” mines some unusually-explicit-for-Nashville seduction.
That tune, showing off a highly rhythmic guitar groove that turns out to be their trademark, got a pinch of country radio play. “Rum,” which hitched more chucka-chucka rhythms to hand-clappy beats, humming that suggests a Jew’s harp and Kenny Chesney-style lyrics about lazing with tropical drinks, followed in early 2014 and got to No. 34 on the country chart. It showed up on a self-titled EP late that year, along with “Shoot From the Hip,” which had a nifty Spaghetti Western vibe, and “Love the Lonely Out of You” that gave John’s guitar room to stretch.
But the track that deservedly took off was “Stay a Little Longer,” which started out shimmering and mined some unusually-explicit-for-Nashville seduction. It earned the brothers a Grammy nod — before their album was released — and it went to No. 5 on the country chart, thanks in part to a non-EP “extended version” that delivered the real payoff: a winding, exploratory, unceasingly rhythmic and melodic guitar solo that climbed then detonated for three minutes, not once wearing out its welcome. Nothing that guitar heroes Brad Paisley or Keith Urban have recorded has soared so high; hardly any other country single released in 2015 could touch it.
Now, just like fellow rookies Old Dominion and Cam in recent months, Brothers Osborne have followed up their debut EP with a full-length album, Pawn Shop. “Rum” is on it, and thankfully the long version of “Stay a Little Longer” and lots more guitar. There’s a blues solo in the Lee Ann Womack duet “Loving Me Back,” a big Tom Petty-jangle in the clippity-clopping, semi-talked ode to commonality “American Crazy.” There’s a swampy roll, then a good rhythmic breakdown in midnight (or maybe more likely midday) toker “Greener Pastures,” and some dirty-booted slide in “Down Home,” which casually references Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe.”
But mostly John and T.J.’s road band set up chugging shuffles while T.J. sings deeply, but good-naturedly on top. Living on a shoestring, by either choice or circumstance, is the theme of opener “Dirt Rich” and “Pawn Shop” (in the tradition of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop,” Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Swap Meet Louie” and Nirvana’s “Swap Meet” –- except this time there’s cheap vinyl records and DVDs for sale). And closer “It Ain’t My Fault” is some Big & Rich-style walloping drumbeat, throw-your-hands-up dance country. Two-steppers will be kicking up sawdust to that one all year, just wait. By then, Brothers Osborne can call themselves whatever they want.