Album Review – Brothers Osborne’s “Pawn Shop”

 

“I think people are tired of the bullshit and are ready for the real substance,”

John Osborne told that to Rolling Stone as new country music duo, Brothers Osborne, readied their second radio single, “Stay A Little Longer.” John (lead guitar) and his brother T.J. (vocals) are ready to go toe to toe with country’s hottest male duos like Florida Georgia Line and Dan + Shay. Osborne also said that we may be on the cusp of a country music era where songs will have longer shelf lives down the road. While that remains to be seen, Brothers Osborne seem poised to bring forth more organic music to country radio. The duo has a Grammy nomination for Country Group/Duo Performance for the Gold-Certified “Stay a Little Longer.” Riding the wave of a top five single and Grammy nomination, Brothers Osborne have released their first full length album with the help of producer Jay Joyce. Pawn Shop features 11 songs, all of which the brothers co-wrote with several of country’s hot shot writers like Jessi Alexander, Craig Wiseman, and Shane McAnally to name a few. I’d argue that Pawn Shop isn’t quite an album full of substance, but the Brothers Osborne certainly take country music a step in the right direction.

Brothers Osborne and Pawn Shop have already differentiated themselves from the pack with singles like “Rum” and “Stay a Little Longer.” But that’s taken one step further with the album’s lead track, “Dirt Rich.” A heavy picking acoustic guitar lays the ground for the melody before a simple percussion track joins the mix. The “less is more” attitude fits with this song’s production. Playing off the phrase “dirt poor,” the song encourages those blue-collar, down on your luck folks to embrace their situation. The appliances in the kitchen may be broken and the mailbox may be standing crooked, but that’s the way life goes sometimes. Brothers Osborne have more rock influence in their music than country, in my opinion, and “21 Summer” is one of the several songs on Pawn Shop that show the rock influence. The gentle beat of guitars and percussion set the mood for the nostalgic ballad. T.J. sings of the memories of the summer he turned 21 and the girl who made a man of him.

The album cut of “Stay a Little Longer” features an extended guitar outro that was cut from the radio edit. The song nicely strides the line between country and rock, fitting nicely into both genres. Brothers Osborne made a great choice with releasing the single to radio, because this is arguably the best song on the album. The whole package of lyrics, vocals, and production work together in “Stay a Little Longer.” “Pawn Shop” is a song where the heavy acoustic picking is in the forefront of the production mix. Sticking with the blue-collar themes of those just getting by, the song is an ode to pawn shops. Selling for some extra cash, finding what you need at a cheap rate, even if it isn’t the best. The deep, baritone vocals are a nice touch to the song with the production to help the song stand out. Even though the lyrical content is nothing special, the song is packaged nicely.

The duo’s lead single “Rum” comes next. As Josh wrote in the song review, “This is a song you listen to after a long day of work and just unwind to. The instrumentation used in this song is what really makes this song good. There are a lot of influences from rock, blues and folk mixed in with this country beat. Really the instrumentation is the star of “Rum.”” Brothers Osborne are joined by Lee Ann Womack for “Loving Me Back.” This love song finds a man happy with the fact that he’s found a woman who can love him back. The production of this song is top-notch. It’s simple with little guitar tracks. The production allows the vocals room to stand out, which is a good thing as T.J. Osborne and Lee Ann Womack harmonize together really well on the chorus of the song. The lyrics, though, of this song are a cliché pile of crap. “You get me high, you get me stoned, it’s a ride I ain’t never been on. It’s a binge, it’s a buzz, it’s a drunk I can’t find in no glass.” Sure the verses sort of set the stage about how this man has spent years loving his vices and things that bring him down, but to resort to a chorus with a lead line like that is major cop-out. “Loving Me Back” is a wasted opportunity for a collaboration with Lee Ann Womack.

“American Crazy” is a song that doesn’t help the cause of bringing real substance to country music. The song is basically “Drunk Americans” 2.0. Brothers Osborne sing in the chorus, “We’re lost, we’re found, we’re up, we’re down, we’re all just American crazy. We’re left, we’re right, we’re black, we’re white, we’re all just American crazy.” This song is nothing but two and a half minutes of stupid clichés that should have been left off the album. The blue-collar blues continue in “Greener Pastures.” The song finds our narrator down to his last resort after praying and working hard with nothing to show for it, so he moves onto greener pastures. In this case, though, greener pastures is marijuana. Growing and smoking weed in order to cope with life’s tough battle. Sure, it’s another country music song about pot, but there’s semblance of something deeper about the motivations for turning to pot. “Greener Pastures” also has a more country/rockabilly feel to the production, a great, modern callback to country’s early sound. While the content of the song will detract some, I think the song works because it’s packaged nicely in its story telling and production.

“Down Home” is another rock-like song. The electric guitar leads the way, showing no signs of trying to cater to the country side of music – save for the lyrics. “Down Home” is a party song in a small town. A bunch of buddies getting together and raising hell in a town where nothing much happens. “Heart Shaped Locket” is perhaps the most country song on the album. Noticeable banjo and steel guitar find its way into the mid-tempo production. The song finds a woman in a relationship ready to go out on the town. The man, already suspicious of her cheating, feels that his suspicions are confirmed by the way she’s dressed. He wants to know who’s in her heart-shaped locket, because he knows it’s no longer him. “Heart Shaped Locket” is another song that shows the full potential of Brothers Osborne; it’s the kind of modern, substance-filled song that country radio should embrace. Pawn Shop ends with “It Ain’t My Fault.” The narrator is out on the town having a good time, but it’s not his fault. It’s the band’s fault who played the song that fueled the party. It’s the ex’s fault that he’s drinking, and it’s his family’s history that he’s a wild boy. Essentially, the lyrics try to tell some story, but this is a song meant to get a crowd rowdy and having fun. The electric guitar leads the beat and drum kicks in this rollicking rock song.

Overall, Pawn Shop shows flashes of what the Brothers Osborne are capable of bringing to country music. They have an organic production that shows commitment to their own style away from the masses of their country music pop peers. The almost folk style of rock/country with the lone acoustic guitar like in “Dirt Rich” or even “Loving Me Back” is a definite musical niche for the duo. The lyrics, however, don’t do quite enough to bring more substance to country music. Several songs rely on overdone cliches and lazy tropes to tell the story. There are moments here, like “Heart Shaped Locket,” where if you let the brothers be who they want to be, they can bring some great country music. Pawn Shop shows nothing but potential for the Brothers Osborne. If Music Row can leave them alone and allow the duo to grow and progress as artists on their own terms, then we will be in for a treat with future albums. Pawn Shop isn’t anything special, but it’s worth listening to at least once.

Grade: 6/10

11 thoughts on “Album Review – Brothers Osborne’s “Pawn Shop”

  1. Raymond January 19, 2016 / 11:14 am

    While not quite the loveliness of Maddie & Tae debut album. This album to me was rather great myself a little wrong here and there but overall not bad whatsoever. I think these guys will be big. The fact they were nominated for a Grammy Award before this album even came out shows that people really like these guys. I actually did really love “Loving Me Back” and I found that to be one of the best songs ok the album. These guys I think if they release the right song once Stay A Little Less is done I can see these guys challenging FGL for vocal duo.

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  2. Nadia Lockheart January 19, 2016 / 12:16 pm

    I’ve found myself never really being able to get into their first two singles, even though I respected their approach sound-wise. And it mainly had to do with how innocuous the production was, while both being lyrically lightweight songs that don’t add anything with teeth or considerable detail.

    *

    The same flaw bogs down “Pawn Shop” as a whole.

    Pretty much every single track on this album features tasteful instrumentation and vocals, but falls short in standing out in the ultimate sense due to sanitary production and uninteresting lyrics that are lesser regurgitatings of your typical themes in modern country radio.

    “21 Summer”, for instance, is obviously piggybacking off of hit songs like “Springsteen” and “All Summer Long” with dime-a-dozen lyrics like “I hear that song, the one we sang all summer long, and even though its been so long it brings me back, right back to you.” Nothing wrong with that, per se, but for as vociferously contentious as the duo has proven to be in interviews about how they “are tired of the bullshit and are ready for the real substance,”………………………….this can’t help but come across as surface-level all the same.

    Or take “American Crazy”. Sure, it’s nice that they tip their hat to blue-collar America, but with lines like
    “Same tune, same town, same school, same crowd, same fight for the home team, same love, same dream”……………..how is this any more deep or substantial than, say, Lee Brice’s “Drinking Class” or, as this review has pointed out, Toby Keith’s “Drunk Americans” (both already shallow songs in their own right).

    “Greener Pastures” also comes across as contrived and written-by-committee with the gratuitous swearing (“So you can plant your garden where you used to chew my ass, yeah I don’t want this dirt no more I’m tradin’ it for grass…”, etc.) and also feels like a lesser clone of Eric Church’s “Smoke A Little Smoke”. In fact, if I had to deduce a mainstream artist that they’re most clearly springboarding off of as a whole, it’s definitely Eric Church (particularly the “Carolina” and “Chief” eras).

    Church’s brand of brawny blue-collar populism most palpably surfaces in tracks like “Loving Me Back”, “Down Home” and the aforementioned “American Crazy”. His stab at it is nothing new and has already been derivative of John Mellencamp, but the Brothers Osborne’s take often can’t help but come across as poor man’s Eric Church. Especially now that Church has elevated his game with “Mr. Misunderstood”.

    *

    Perhaps Brothers Osborne will, in time, too. But I have to say this album greatly underwhelmed me and confirmed my suspicions of the band through their lead two singles. And for as confrontational as they are in numerous interviews, this is not the album that effectively backs up their braggadocio.

    I’m thinking a Strong 5 to Light 6 out of 10 for this.

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  3. Josh Schott January 19, 2016 / 1:15 pm

    This album didn’t live up to the hopes I had for it. Nevertheless I still saw glimpses what I would like to see from them in future releases. The instrumentation is definitely where it needs to be, but lyrically is where they’re weakest and need to improve. If they can just improve there, I think they could be one of the better acts in mainstream country music. But this definitely won’t be one of the better albums we hear in mainstream country and maybe one of the more disappointing. A lot of people seem to like this album and I can see why, but the Brothers Osborne are capable of much more than this and I think they know it too. I hope they back up their words better next time.

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  4. theknightswhosayni4 January 19, 2016 / 2:01 pm

    Hmm…I love this album, and Brothers Osborne is fantastic…especially live. So I got this album right when it came out and I would definitely give it a strong 8 out of 10 at least.

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  5. Kevin Davis January 19, 2016 / 3:19 pm

    I’ve listened to it a couple times now, and I think 6/10 is a fair score. “Stay a Little Longer” has grown on me a lot over the last several weeks of steady radio play, and it’s the strongest song on the album. I agree that the instrumentation is often impressive and creative, while the lyrics are easily the weakest factor. I don’t have much else to add — it’s enjoyable enough but nothing to get too excited over.

    There’s potential, to be sure, and after hearing Dierks Bentley’s incredibly horrendous new single (just a few minutes ago) I am less prone to be too harsh on these guys. I’m glad they’re getting exposure.

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    • Nadia Lockheart January 19, 2016 / 9:08 pm

      As they continue to develop, I can see myself really warm up to them. They failed to do that with this record, but there are promising signs they have much room to grow.

      *

      Yeah, I simply can’t understand why Dierks Bentley felt the need to resort to this base level of pandering. I know some didn’t like “Drunk On A Plane” from his previous album, but even that track had some nuanced, emotional expressiveness and clever lyrical details. Plus there’s no denying it had such a big chorus. And no other singles from “Riser” pandered to the lowest common denominator and he still got a couple other chart-toppers off of them.

      I thought the concept of “Black”, as Bentley explained last week, was a promising one to tie an album together……………………and I fail to see how “Somewhere On A Beach” is relevant to it. It just seems like an aimless throwaway. Easily his worst single since “Sideways”.

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      • Kevin Davis January 19, 2016 / 9:36 pm

        I completely agree about “Drunk on a Plane” having some nuance and “emotional expressiveness” and “clever lyrical details.” I understand why some people threw it under the bro-country bus, but I always defended it. We need some good, fun, lighthearted songs every once in a while, without having to sacrifice our integrity as thinking listeners. But this new single is completely beyond the pale. Like yourself, I do not see how it fits with his recent comments about the new album’s overall approach and theme. I was completely shocked when I heard it, even though I should know better by now.

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        • Nadia Lockheart January 19, 2016 / 10:06 pm

          It’s really no better than Luke Bryan/Karen Fairchild’s current hit “Home Alone Tonight” in terms of its subject matter: amounting to little more than scornfully flipping the bird at an ex and bragging about all the revenge sex he’s getting whilst at the beach.

          I can’t get my head around this theme speaking to “real life”. That it’s even a thing. What a complete waste of time, energy and purpose………………let alone one to center a song around.

          Yeah, I know we’ve derailed this discussion thread in all truth, but Bentley’s latest genuinely pissed me off. I by no means wasn’t expecting a follow-up to the darker one-two punch that was “Say You Do” and “Riser” to be yet another pensive ballad-y track. I get you need to court radio with a lighter offering here and there, and wouldn’t have even minded if it was something in the league of “Drunk On A Plane”, “Tip It On Back” or…………..hell………………..even “5-1-5-0” (the lyrics are dumb as sand in that track, but it at least sounds fun and energetic and with enough of a wink to get the picture it isn’t meant to be taken that seriously). But this end result is just absolutely unacceptable.

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    • Jason January 20, 2016 / 11:14 pm

      Congrats on making it through that song all the way. I don’t know how you did, but congrats.

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  6. Jason January 20, 2016 / 11:13 pm

    It’s alright.

    I’m not one to pre-order things, but after hearing the instrumentation alone for Loving Me Back I did, and I don’t regret it. Definitely not deep lyrically, but the instrumentation is fantastic, and it tells a good story when it wants to (Heart Shaped Locket, Greener Pastures).

    BEST: Heart Shaped Locket, Greener Pastures, American Crazy, It Ain’t My Fault, Pawn Shop
    WORST: 21 Summer (By far the worst instrumentation in my opinion).

    7/10

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