The platinum-selling duo say they've finally hit their stride with their third album, Skeletons. "At the end of the day," says John Osborne, "whether we win or we fail, we're going to do that through authenticity."

By Nancy Kruh
Updated October 09, 2020 03:15 PM
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How much do the Brothers Osborne want to get back on the road? This much:

"Honestly, sleeping on a bouncy bus that's riding over rumble strips and going into construction zones sounds amazing to me right now — if we could just play a damn show," John Osborne, guitarist extraordinaire of the duo, tells PEOPLE.

Ditto for baritone brother TJ Osborne, who embraces his own nightmare scenario: "I think about those shows that we've had that are grueling — the backstage area is a mess and it took all day to get there and we went through this and that ... Give it to me if I could just go on stage and play. I would take it in spades right now."

What could possibly have brought them to this point? Look no further than their sonic jolt of an album, Skeletons, released on Friday. Its 12 luscious tracks have been custom-built for what the Osbornes do best: blow-the-roof-off-the-joint live performance.

Alas, with the ongoing quarantine, who knows when their next chance will be in front of a live audience, but until that day, Skeletons will be whetting fans' appetites. It's the Osbornes' third album, and this time around, the brothers say they've finally hit their stride.

In the seven years they've been a duo, "we've learned a lot about ourselves in the process of playing together as a band, playing together as brothers," says John Osborne, 38. "I think we're most comfortable being honest, genuine, as thought-provoking as we can be within our abilities, and authentic. At the end of the day, whether we win or we fail, we're going to do that through authenticity."

It's a word that fits the new album well. The brothers had a hand in writing all 12 cuts, including their current hard-driving single "All Night." John takes solo writing credit on perhaps the album's most personal song, "Old Man's Boots," a tribute to the brothers' blue-collar dad: "They weren't flashy / They weren't classy / But they made him workin' class happy / And I'd be lucky / I'd be lucky to walk a mile in my old man's boots."

The idea, John says, popped into his head one day when he was taking a bath. ("The second that you stop looking for songs," he says, "that's when they seem to fall into your cerebellum.") TJ, 35, loved it when he heard it.

"The sentiment is something that I also share a hundred percent, and it was right for my voice," he says. "And then honestly, as soon as I started singing it, it just felt very natural."

Their dad, they share, was overwhelmed by the gesture. "We played it for him, and he goes, 'I want to hear another song,'" John recalls. "He listened to it in front of a lot of people, and I could tell he was getting way too emotional about it. Honestly, he'll listen to it on his own and have a good cry over it. He's a big old softie. He would cry over a Pixar movie ... To be honest with you, I would, too!"

The album also features a first for John: an instrumental cut. No doubt a lot of the brothers' fans will think it's high time. The track, "Muskrat Greene," is named after another favorite son of the brothers' tiny hometown of Deale, Maryland; back in 1985, Greene set a world record for eating oysters — 288 in less than two minutes — a pace that perhaps inspired John's breakneck picking.

TJ says he strummed along on the song, happy to give over the spotlight to his brother.

"I'm getting a lot of time to sing, and no one ever thinks that's out of the ordinary," he says. "Now that we're becoming known for [John's solo work], it's not quite so out of left-field. It's kind of becoming a thing that's unique to us. I think it sets us apart. He's a guitar player's guitar player."

John returns the compliment for his brother's work on "Dead Man's Curve," another "barn burner" — as John describes it —that seamlessly follows "Muskrat Greene."

"TJ is singing like an auctioneer," John says. "I mean, I don't even know how he does it. I have to sing harmonies, and I'm running out of breath."

Other standout tracks include "Hatin' Somebody," a song for any season but one that holds particular relevance in the current divisive political climate, and the title track, which TJ calls the "centerpiece" of the recording project.

The brothers are grooving on the fact they're releasing an album called Skeletons right before Halloween — something that wasn't in the original plan.

"COVID has really delayed this," TJ explains, "and now here we are. It's kind of funny when things just fall in line like that."

Both Osbornes are feeling similarly grateful for other pandemic silver linings. The downtime has allowed TJ to get settled into the house he moved into this year, as well as to focus more on fitness. "TJ has been getting ripped buff," his brother reports. "I thought I would do that, too," he adds, somewhat ruefully, "but I'm definitely not."

Instead, he's been rediscovering his love for the visual arts. "I've always been into painting ever since I was a kid," he says. "I loved art before I got into guitar."

In search of a stress reliever earlier this year, he received a refresher from a friend who paints in acrylics. "I just got lost in it," he says, "and it was the most amazing distraction. All I have to do is focus on just this one thing and it's really helped me through a lot. Whenever I just feel a little bit burned out or stressed out and music just isn't pulling me out of it, painting seems to work every time."

TJ Osborne says the biggest life change for both brothers during the quarantine has been simply "learning how to stop and smell the roses. John and I grew up in very, very modest means. Even when we started to have success, we still worked so hard because that's what we'd done our whole life. And now that we've had a moment to slow down, we're realizing that a lot of the important things in life are things that we've always had."

These days, they're savoring the simple pleasures, such "being able to take time to just play board games with our family and be able to hang out with our friends and our family."

Brothers Osborne's Skeletons
| Credit: EMI Records Nashville

Board games? What board game could possibly feed the renegade souls of the Brothers Osborne?

"We love Settlers of Catan," John reveals. "You have to really screw each other over to win. You're arguing by the end of it. It is probably the worst game to play if you're with family — but we love it!"

The Brothers Osborne will celebrate the release of Skeletons with a livestream concert at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT Friday at umgn.us/SkeletonsEvent.