In February of this year, Brothers Osborne singer-guitarist TJ Osborne publicly came out as gay. It’s the kind of thing that might not seem like such a huge deal in a post-Obergefell nation, but the announcement instantly made Osborne the most visible gay man in country music’s often-conservative mainstream wing.
Since coming out, Osborne has handled the spotlight and questions with characteristic grace and easygoing Maryland charm. It’s given his duo with sibling John Osborne a jolt of fresh energy and confidence too — on Sunday night’s ACM Awards, the pair got to close the event with a ripping version of “Dead Man’s Curve,” ably demonstrating why they’re one of the most vital live groups out there.
But just a few days prior, they released the new song “Younger Me,” which is something else entirely. Written by TJ and John with fellow singer-songwriter Kendell Marvel, it’s ostensibly intended as a letter to a younger version of oneself. Instead of dewy-eyed nostalgia about how good things used to be, it’s a consoling and encouraging message dedicated to anyone for whom growing up was more of a confusing, frustrating time. It’s also one of Brothers Osborne’s best releases.
“Way too young to pace a bedroom floor/Always dreamed of kicking down the door/What were you waiting for,” Osborne sings, touching on reckless years, sleepless nights, and never exactly fitting in. It could be many people’s story, but knowing about his journey as a gay man and successful country artist makes it cut just a little deeper. Osborne also sees himself as right where he should be: “Youth ain’t wasted on the young/These trips around the sun, I needed every one.”
Where a solid portion of Brothers Osborne’s 2020 album Skeletons favored uptempo tunes with a dual guitar attack and punchy rhythms, “Younger Me” aims for something more restrained. Gently pulsing synths and steadily strummed acoustic guitars call to mind Eighties Bruce Springsteen or even Sam’s Town-era Killers, but Osborne’s resonant baritone renders those comparisons obsolete. The melody is buoyant with hard-won optimism but also bears noticeable traces of sadness — as if acknowledging those confusing years — and John Osborne fills in the space where a bridge would ordinarily be with a soaring, string-bending guitar solo.
Before it’s all over, Osborne’s tone toward his younger self has shifted to gratitude. “You got me where I am today/Got a few things right along the way,” he sings, voice cracking the tiniest bit. It may be personal song of resilience for TJ Osborne, but “Younger Me” is perfect for anyone else who needs a nudge to keep pressing forward.