On their third studio album Skeletons, the Brothers Osborne make no bones about what it is they love to do the most, although it may not be what they do best. For a couple of fellas from the northernmost reaches of the United States, TJ and John Osborne certainly know how to rock with a truckload of southern swagger.
Produced by Jay Joyce, the album, taken as a whole, is a confident statement from the Brothers. And why shouldn’t they have all the confidence in the world at this point? In only seven years, they’ve already released a pair of critically acclaimed albums, landed a handful of Gold-selling singles and have nabbed plenty of CMA, ACM and CMT awards and nominations. The best examples of Brothers Osborne’s self-assured identity are the stomping, swerving southern rock-powered numbers.
“Lighten Up” starts twangy before giving way to a swampy electric riff ZZ Top would be proud of. That song’s urge to us to take life less seriously by cranking up the fun is a sentiment shared in other spots on the record. The rambunctious rocker “All Night” feels like the second coming of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” (and yes, we mean that in a good way), while the scorching title track, featuring a growling TJ Osborne confronting a trouble-making liar, would be a killer choice for fellow country rockers Cadillac Three to cover.
That trio of tunes aren’t only blazing fist-pumpers, but they’re also impossibly danceable. As gritty as the guitars in the songs often are, the beats and overall production makes for a crisp, damn-near disco experience. If dancehall DJs don’t add these songs to their playlists for Saturday night line dancers after the pandemic ends, then it’s a missed opportunity for them.
The southern rock vibes here aren’t all of the greasy, crunchy variety, mind you. The Brothers kick up the rootsy twang in the galloping, locomotive-quick instrumental “Muskrat Greene” before offering up “Dead Man’s Curve,” a fiery story song about a dangerously alluring woman that would make Charlie Daniels proud. The outlaw-inspired “Back on the Bottle” blends Waylon Jennings’ spirit with a rich, gospel flair.
As fun as all of the hard-charging throttle hitting is on Skeletons, the songs with a more approachable foundation let the duos lyrics and T.J.’s vocals shine the most. In the pretty, woulda-coulda-shoulda breakup song “High Note,” T.J. sings about how being “tangled up in the sheets, three sheets to the wind” might’ve been the way to “say goodbye on a high note.”
In that song’s emotional chorus, it’s clear his voice has more reach, more ability to connect on various levels than many of the louder songs allow. The mellow, easy-breezy “Make it a Good One” has a musical aura to match the song’s message of squeezing the most out of life’s smallest pleasures. On a similar note, “Old Man’s Boots” is a satisfyingly laid-back appreciation of class over flash. Perhaps the album’s best overall song, and best chance at radio gold, “I’m Not for Everyone” is a countrified, slice-of-life gem that’s relatable for everyone, regardless of what the title says.
Indeed, for the most part, the bold, swaggering persona is what propels Skeletons, but the handful of tunes that let off the gas pedal a bit while introducing a bit of melody and introspection best offer the moments where the duo seems to truly flesh itself out to a complete degree.