Brothers Osborne’s ‘Skeletons’ emulates live music

Monday, October 12, 2020 - 1:18pm

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Live Streams, surprise albums, social media “talk shows” and the like remain a sorry Band-Aid over what we’re really aching for: live music. We want to step on strangers’ toes, feel a mysterious liquid spill onto the backs of our legs and drown out friends’ out-of-tune singing with our own. The Brothers Osborne’s Skeletons doesn’t cure this ache either, but it does provide a series of moments that reminds listeners why they yearn to hear music in-person in the first place.

One key ingredient for any good concert is relatability. Funny enough, this arrives in the form of the track “I’m Not For Everyone.” A shopping list style of a song, the duo name everyday nuggets of their identity like enjoying “scotch and zydeco bands.” But it’s the general understanding that “everyone isn’t for everyone” that results in lyrics to laugh along with: “Some people clap on the one and three / Some people clap on the two and four / Some people don’t clap at all cause they got no rhythm / And that’s alright,” lead singer T.J. Osborne smirks.

In other moments on Skeletons, it isn’t the lyrics that invite participation, but the backing vocals. A chorus of seemingly drunken voices join the Osborne brothers in an ode to drinking after breaking up with a restrictive ex. More atmospheric touches include keys rattling on what the listener imagines is the worn piano in the corner of the bar. Despite country music’s well-documented drinking problem, “Back on the Bottle” is a welcome, refreshing take that invites the listener on the bar crawl itself instead of just telling us about it the morning after. 

Mid-way through the album, like in most live performances, it’s the band’s time to shine. An electric guitar keeps the record’s not-so-steady pulse throughout its entirety, but the musical interlude “Muskrat Greene” recalls the section of a show that performers dedicate to introducing each band member. And each band member, in turn, dedicates this time to showing off. The electric guitar, bass and piano are given their solos and they run with them.

The Brothers Osborne’s longtime producer, Jay Joyce, is at least partially responsible for this chaotic, yet magnetic, energy. In a recent interview with Apple Music, the brothers described him as being “out of his mind” but “genius.” While making Skeletons, Joyce tried to get the brothers to emulate “that feeling when you’re in a club downtown on Broadway and it all sounds crazy on stage and you’re playing your heart out.” No wonder it sounds like it’s meant to be experienced that way too.

Tracks like “All the Good Ones Are” and “Make It a Good One” have enough clever turns of phrase to fill an order of cross-stitched pillows from Cracker Barrel. But treading in universal directives means losing some lyrical substance and, ultimately, not much sticks. There aren’t any memorable stories or well-crafted bits of imagery to latch onto.

Still, I know that if I saw Skeletons performed live, I would tap my toes the entire time and happily sway along with the crowd. I would shimmy my shoulders to the notes of the guitar solo in “Dead Man’s Curve” and hoist my cell phone into a sea of lights for the sweeping, somber “High Note.” I can almost see the reds and greens and blues flashing across my face and feel my heart pound in my throat. The Brothers Osborne miss it as much as we do.

Daily Arts Writer Katie Beekman can be reached at beekmank@umich.edu.


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