Brothers Osborne had just wrapped up another tour when the band's bus pulled into Port St. Joe — a sleepy beach town in the Florida Panhandle, tucked against the Gulf of Mexico — in April 2017. The guys had been on the road for nearly two years. Along the way, they'd transformed themselves from country newcomers into genuine stars, releasing four Top 40 singles (all taken from the duo's gold-selling debut, Pawn Shop) while racking up nearly a dozen CMA Awards, Grammy nominations, and ACM trophies.
It was time to record a new album — one that doubled down on the Osbornes' guitar-driven twang, while also showing off their growth as a live act. Jay Joyce, the band's producer, had suggested they use his Florida beach house as a recording location, providing a place free of outside distractions. That's how TJ and John found themselves in Port St. Joe, brushing sand from the tops of their beer cans and recording a new batch of songs — all of them co-written by Brothers Osborne — in Joyce's oceanside home. The process felt raw, honest, and uniquely homemade. It was different from the big-budget studio experience in Nashville, which suited the Osbornes just fine.
"It wasn’t a real studio," says John, who grew up alongside his younger brother in the similarlysized waterfront town of Deale, Maryland. "It was a house. The place was in no way built for recording, which made it even cooler. We set up most of our equipment in the living room. The guitar amps were put in the master bathroom. The drums were set up near the fireplace."
Joined by longtime members of their touring band, TJ and John spent two weeks in that living room, recording the 10 songs that make up their second album, Port Saint Joe. With waves crashing onto the Florida shoreline outside, they captured most of the album in a series of live takes. Listen closely and you can still make out the sounds of roaring water, wind, and even a few banging pots from the nearby kitchen, where Joyce's brother whipped up daily meals for the crew.
It's fitting that Brothers Osborne chose an unconventional location for the Port Saint Joe sessions. After all, TJ and John's songs have always bent the traditional rules of country music, sticking closely to a sound that bridges the gap between the mainstream and the alternative world. It's there — in the grey areas between genres — that Brothers Osborne continue to pack the biggest punch.
Case in point: "Shoot Me Straight," Port Saint Joe's kickoff single. Clocking in at six minutes, the song fires twin barrels of groove-heavy funk and swampy southern rock, with TJ's baritone vocals and John's fiery fretwork leading the charge. In some ways, it's a close cousin to Pawn Shop's biggest hit, "Stay a Little Longer." Both songs end with John's extended guitar solos, which make them unlikely choices for radio singles. And yet both songs have become Top 40 hits for the band, pointing to a diverse audience whose members were raised, like the Osbornes themselves, on a mix of blue-collar rock and classic country.
"That song is literally just us jamming in a room," John says of "Shoot Me Straight." "One of the last nights we were at Jay's beach house, we had some friends all come down from Nashville. We had all been drinking and partying a little bit, and Jay wanted us to get in front of our friends and jam. That live performance was the take we kept. He wouldn’t let us fix anything. I'm glad that he didn't, because music can be so perfect these days. You can go back into the studio and fix anything you want, but this record isn't like that. It's a snapshot of what actually happened."
The diversity continues throughout the album's tracklist. There are country waltzes, half-lit drinking songs, power ballads, southern slow jams, and rootsy rave-ups, all captured by Joyce — the band's Grammy-winning producer, known for his work on Eric Church's Mr. Misunderstood, Carrie Underwood's Storyteller, and Little Big Town's The Breaker — and written by the Osbornes. TJ and John teamed up with a number of co-writers, too. They penned "Weed, Whiskey and Willie" with Laura Veltz. "That song is a lot like who we are as people — just a little bit darker and a little bit sadder than most country artists," John explains. And finished "Pushing Up Daisies" with Kendell Marvell - "It's about the kind of love that will last past our own lives," says TJ, and wrote "Me Before You" with Shane McAnally. Bookending the album are two standout songs about enjoying the current moment: "Slow Your Roll," a laidback order to chill out and drink up, and "While You Still Can," a reminder to the make the most of your everyday interactions with loved ones.
The result is an album that's both familiar and fresh, mixing countrified trends — the low, deepseated twang of TJ's voice; the rustic sound of mandolins and acoustic guitars; the story-based songwriting — with amplified guitars and pop hooks. It's a country album for the modern age: forward-thinking and versatile, with songs that nod to the past while still pushing forward into new territory. If Pawn Shop introduced Brothers Osborne, then Port St. Joe defines them clearly.
"In making this record, we were very confident in who we are and what we are," TJ says. And what are they? At their core, Brothers Osborne are a unique kind of country duo — one that is rooted in TJ's voice and John's incendiary guitar playing. Most duos are built upon singing, but Brothers Osborne aren't like most duos. And Port Saint Joe, with its unique recording process and tracklist, isn't like most albums.
"Pawn Shop was a collection of songs, sounds, and inspirations from when we were kids," John adds. "Port Saint Joe is a reflection of how far we’ve come since Pawn Shop — not only as people, but as songwriters, performers, singers, and players. We’ve played so many shows collectively as a band. We’ve grown together as a unit. This is a reflection of the amount of work that we’ve put in since Pawn Shop. It's certainly a natural progression for us."