By KRISTIN M. HALL
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Country music upstarts Brothers Osborne may have started their career as underdogs, but now that they’ve been crowned the genre’s biggest duo, the pressure is on.
In a few short years, Brothers TJ and John Osborne have been embraced by the Nashville industry, earning a Grammy nomination before their debut album, “Pawn Shop,” came out in 2016 and racking up multiple country music awards. Their second album, “Port Saint Joe,” will be coming out April 20, and they’ll make their biggest televised appearance on the 60th annual Grammy Awards this Sunday. They are also nominated for best country group/duo performance.
“The success that we have had and those awards were really people, our peers, handing us the torch, saying, ‘You’re doing something different. We respect that,'” said TJ Osborne, whose baritone voice complements brother John’s superb guitar skills. “We have this obligation in a great way to stay true to that and make this genre proud and make everyone feel that they made the right decision in voting us duo of the year.”
In 2016 and 2017, these brothers from rural Maryland upset the three-time vocal duo of the year Florida Georgia Line at the Country Music Association Awards. Cindy Mabe, president of their label, Universal Music Group Nashville, said she wasn’t too surprised by the wins.
“Whether or not you put Florida Georgia Line in that bro country movement, from a creative standpoint and a creative nurturing of this town, people really wanted to distance themselves from that,” Mabe said. “And then you have this band that has this really fresh unique perspective who are clearly beating to their own drum.”
They applied a live album mentality to “Port Saint Joe,” which they cut in two weeks in their producer Jay Joyce’s beach house on Florida’s Emerald Coast, complete with little imperfections and candid moments. The songs range from a traditional country waltz on “Tequila Again” to the Muscle Shoals inspired soul groove “A Little Bit Trouble.”
“A lot of the takes you hear were live takes,” said John Osborne, 35. “We’re not going in and overdubbing anything.”
“Shoot Me Straight,” their first single from the new album, is an Allman Brothers-inspired country rock song with a three-minute-long blistering guitar solo.
“I had three minutes to sing, so why not give him three minutes to play the guitar?” TJ Osborne, 33, said.
“There used to be a time when a song that was 6 or 7 or 8 minutes long with a long guitar solo, that wasn’t a weird concept,” John Osborne said. “It wasn’t taboo. If you look back at ‘Freebird’ or ‘Hotel California,’ the solo is as much of the song as the actual song is.”
Much like Chris Stapleton has moved the genre back to more soulful country music, Brothers Osborne feel a connection to the genre’s roots. In a nod to country music’s origins, the duo sometimes throws into their live set a cover of “Rocky Top,” the foot-stomping standard made popular by bluegrass icons the Osborne Brothers.
“I am not saying we’re a throwback country band by any stretch, but we are still keeping in tradition,” said John Osborne. “It’s easy to let yourself veer away from that because monetarily it might make more sense to try do something that is more pop or more mainstream. We’re just adhering to what we do naturally and what we think is authentic.”
That authenticity extends not only to their music, but also to their own personal and political opinions, which they often share freely on social media and interviews. They have been outspoken about President Donald Trump, marijuana, net neutrality and Congress, topics that many mainstream country artists avoid publicly.
Mabe said she doesn’t caution them about expressing their opinions, but she has sometimes asked them to refrain from cursing so often in interviews.
“They know the risks and the rewards of what they have to say,” Mabe said. “I feel like they have a platform and if they have something to say that needs to be said, they are going to say it. They also know that could offend people.”
Maren Morris, who will be performing with the Brothers Osborne and Eric Church on the Grammys in a tribute to music fans killed or injured at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, said their sincerity as individuals and artists is what has created their loyal fan base.
“They are truly themselves and not worried about (what) radio or Music Row is going to think about them,” Morris said.
And the duo is thriving under the pressure.
“We’re trying to challenge everyone including ourselves,” said TJ Osborne.