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Review: Brothers Osborne Explore Prog-Country at Ryman Auditorium Residency

Award-winning duo emphasize musical exploration over paint-by-numbers recreations at triumphant Nashville gig

Brothers Osborne

Brothers Osborne favored musical exploration over paint-by-numbers recreations of their hits during the final night of their Nashville residency.

Jordan O'Donnell

“We’re gonna get after it tonight,” said TJ Osborne on Saturday night, early in Brothers Osborne’s third sold-out show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. True to his word, TJ and his brother John went long for a performance that emphasized their musical chops and improvisation as much as the meat-and-potatoes country-rock that has made them consistent CMA Award favorites over the last three years.

Where many country performers insist on precision and recreating each track exactly as it appears on their albums — often to their detriment — Brothers Osborne seem to thrive on creating big moments in concert and pushing one another to stretch out the way jam bands do. Opening their set with the hard-charging, muscular sounds of “Drank Like Hank,” the group soon veered off into musical territory that allowed their backing band’s instrumental heft to coexist with John’s stylish guitar work and TJ’s robust baritone.

The duo’s singles like “Shoot Me Straight” and “Stay a Little Longer,” which featured extended instrumental solos in their studio versions, morphed in interesting ways on the Ryman stage. John Osborne recited parts of his original solos and discarded others, pushing here and pulling there as they drew “Shoot Me Straight” out to a thrilling conclusion. Meanwhile, “Stay a Little Longer” began with a pulsing synthesizer intro that sounded more like electronic music and concluded with John heroically soloing from atop a road case.

The group also played with restraint, with TJ backing off the mic during Port Saint Joe album cut “Weed, Whiskey and Willie” to let the crowd handle the chorus and John dishing out some subtle, R&B-influenced licks during current single “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You).” On “Rum,” John’s bottleneck leads were a sizzling counterpoint to TJ’s soulful musings and some lively barrelhouse piano work. They trimmed down to acoustic instruments for the dreamy sounds of “21 Summer,” with John switching over to mandolin and then ceding the spotlight to third guitar player Jason Graumlich during the blistering cover of Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” that followed. During their encore, they brought out Lee Ann Womack to deliver the simmering “Loving Me Back” from their debut LP Pawn Shop, building tension that took until the final moments to crest, and enlisted their complementary opening act, the Wild Feathers, for a rollicking reading of “A Little Help From My Friends.”

But if there’s any song that’s emblematic of the way they reshape their own material in performance, it’s the stomping groove of “It Ain’t My Fault,” which closed out their main set as a cathartic jam that stretched past 10 minutes. The song’s tightly wound rhythm and tale of bad behavior quickly proved to be elastic, switching into a moody, prog-influenced section where TJ stepped offstage and the group’s keys player Billy Justineau took a solo that was built upon complex, almost-dissonant harmonics. Not to be outdone, John followed this up with a jazzy solo of his own, effortlessly peeling off some liquid runs in the key of Carlos Santana. And then suddenly, once it began to feel like an entirely different song, that signature beat and ringing guitar riff snapped back into focus. It’s hard to imagine another country group in the present with daring or skill enough to pull it off so successfully.

Setlist:

“Drank Like Hank”
“Shoot Me Straight”
“I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)”
“Weed, Whiskey and Willie”
“Greener Pastures”
“Down Home”
“Rum”
“Burning Man” (Dierks Bentley cover)
“Tequila Again”
“21 Summer”
“Copperhead Road” (Steve Earle cover)
“Stay a Little Longer”
“It Ain’t My Fault”

Encore

“Pushing Up Daisies (Love Alive)”
“Lovin’ Me Back” (with Lee Ann Womack)
“Pawn Shop”
“A Little Help From My Friends” (with the Wild Feathers)

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