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

Album Review – Dean Miller’s “‘Til You Stop Getting Up”

When you’re born into a musical family, it’s inevitable that you’re going to at least try to get into the family business yourself too. Hank Williams Jr. followed his father, Hank Williams. Both Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard have multiple children involved in the music industry. And Dean Miller followed his father Roger Miller. Dean’s father was part of the “Golden Age” of country music and was well-known for his novelty songs, the most recognizable being “King of the Road.” Dean himself has been involved with country music industry for sometime, with his first album coming out in 1997. His biggest hit so far has been “Nowhere, USA,” which peaked at #54 on the country chart in 1997. He’s also a writer who has had several of his songs recorded by notable artists such as George Jones, Jamey Johnson, Terri Clark, Hank Williams III and many others. Miller has been there and done that, as the saying goes. And he’s now came out with his third album, ‘Til You Stop Getting Up, his first album since 2005.

The Best Songs on the Album

The album’s title track, “‘Til You Stop Getting Up,” is a song about an older man and a younger man at a bar. The younger man has just went through a breakup and the older man gives him advice on how to handle failure and never give up when life deals you a difficult hand. It’s very well written and paints a picture in the listeners’ heads. The music video is worth checking out too, as the older man is played by Kris Kristofferson.

Miller’s writing shines again on “River Across My Heart.” It’s a heartbreak song that describes a man’s feelings after the end of a failed relationship quite well. The lyric that stands out to me is when he sings about the ring he was wanting to give the woman being so cold in his jacket pocket, yet it burns through him. Really makes the listener feel what the man is experiencing. “Begging For a Bullet” is about being stuck in a messy relationship and begging for someone to just end it for him. It’s an agonizing relationship that he hates so much, yet can’t leave. Miller shows his tender side in “An Angel Believes in Me,” and is a very relatable song for men who have just fallen in love.

The Worst Songs on the Album

None of the songs on the album came off as bad to me, however there was one song that felt a little boring and dry. “This Is Where It All Goes Right” felt like your typical pop country love song. Nothing really stands out about it.

The Rest of the Album

I found the remaining songs to be quite solid. The entire album is pretty spot on with the instrumentation on each song, but “Stay” was the best in terms of the instrumentation used. It’s a bright and upbeat love song that utilizes its acoustic instruments well and has some hints of jazz influences with the inclusions of horns. “My Heart is In Your Hands” is a contemporary love song about man expressing his love. The mellow tone gives the song a relaxed feeling. “Kill My Love” is about a guy looking for a rebound girl after the end of a relationship and “San Francisco” tells the tale of a summer relationship that went wrong. The latter song had a really impressive lyric that stood out to me that described the mood of the song: “The coldest winter that I’ve ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” That’s just great songwriting. The album concludes with “I’m A Leaver,” which is about two completely opposite people wanting something completely different out of a relationship.

Overall Thoughts

Miller’s songwriting experience shows in this album. All of the songs were written well and flowed together nicely. The instrumentation complemented the lyrics well, although I was hoping to hear at least one fast tempo song out of Miller. A majority of the songs were mellow or slowed down, which isn’t a problem. But I wanted a little more variety. Considering this is his first album in nine years, I think it’s a great effort. The choice of only having ten songs is good too because it allows the listener to digest this album quite easily (you know my thoughts on long albums). ‘Til You Stop Getting Up is an album that will appeal mostly to men, especially younger males experiencing love or heartbreak. The overall sound is a blend of contemporary and traditional, making this aspect appealing to all listeners. I hope to hear more out of Miller and I think he’s capable of making even better music. Nevertheless, ‘Til You Stop Getting Up is solid all the way through and recommend giving it a listen.

Grade: 7/10

 

Review – Derek Anthony’s “Give It To Me Strait”

Today we take a look at another Texas country music artist, Derek Anthony. He’s an accomplished artist from the Dallas/Fort Worth area and is quite skilled with many instruments. He can play the guitar, banjo, trumpet, harmonica, saxophone, baritone and piano. He lists many artists on his website as his influences for his music, which include Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, Alabama, The Eagles, Frank Sinatra and George Strait.  The latter of which he pays tribute to in his new single “Give It To Me Strait.”

The song doubles as a breakup song and a tribute to George Strait. There are several references to many of Strait’s hits throughout, including the very first line of the song, “I’m carrying your love with me.” I won’t point out all of the songs referenced, as one of the fun things about this song is trying to identify all of the references to Strait. One of the pitfalls of trying to make references in a song and tell a story is it can come off clunky and forced. It needs to sound organic. I think Anthony did a good job incorporating these references together to pay homage to Strait, while they also made sense for a song about a breakup. For example, the woman isn’t being entirely truthful and upfront to her man and he just wants her to give it to him straight (or as the song title says “Strait”). This is a brilliant play on words.

In terms of instrumentation, I think it’s very solid. The opening guitar rift is quite familiar (see if you can remember the song). I’m glad there isn’t a lot of instrumentation in the song, as the guitar is the main instrument used. Too much background instrumentation would’ve taken away from the story and meaning of the song. I see too many artists today that incorporate background instruments than they should. Less can be more. “Give It To Me Strait” has a contemporary country feel. It reminds me of 90s country, which is very appropriate for this song.

Anthony’s tribute to George Strait is honorably well done. I was wondering when an artist would write some sort of tribute for Strait since he just retired from touring. Strait is a true icon and I would like to see more artist thank him for the impact he made on the genre. While the vocals aren’t the strongest on this song, the lyrics and instrumentation flow together nicely. Anthony accomplishes the goal of this song: a tribute to Strait and it’s a breakup song that is relatable to the average country music fan.

Grade: 7.5/10