Run-down honky-tonks. Lost love. Broken dreams. Empty bottles. This is the stuff of inspiration for Bowling Green, KY band the Josephines, a rowdy quintet of down-home rockers whose raw, rough-around-the-edges music has the rarely felt power to make you dance while you cry.
In January, the band will release their highly anticipated debut studio album, Cocaine or Cowboys, which follows their 2017 EP, Sober Up. The Josephines recorded Cocaine or Cowboys over the course of two sessions, one in 2019 at Blackbird Studios and the second in 2020 at Monocle Studios, coproducing the album alongside Jon Lawhon and Chris Robertson. Guest musicians on the album include co-producer Robertson (lead guitar vocals), Cody Beck (fiddle), Robbie Crowell (keys) and Nate Davis (keys).
The Josephines are Brad Tabor (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin), Zach Lindsey (lead guitar, vocals), Alex Lindsey (lead guitar, pedal steel, lap steel, vocals) and David Page (drums, percussion). The band formed in 2017, taking their name from the street they all once lived on together: Josephine Street.
Struck by Tabor's songwriting, Lindsey knew they had a band on their hands. The pair joined forces with Alex Lindsey, with drummer David Page coming on board shortly after the band's formation. They started playing live shows in and around Bowling Green and, as Tabor puts it, "We've been disappointing the public ever since."
When it came time to make a debut album, the band worked together to determine which 10 songs best represented The Josephines. Being prolific songwriters, they had no shortage of material to work with. "Even when we first went into the studio, we had a lot of songs to work with," Lindsey says. "And every time we get together we write new stuff."
Having already recorded a batch of songs at Blackbird Studios in 2019, the band revisited Cocaine or Cowboys in 2020 and wrote and recorded a handful of new songs to round out the record. While on the road with Black Stone Cherry, the band's Jon Lawhon offered to provide the studio, co-produce album and the final version of Cocaine or Cowboys became a reality.
Across Cocaine nor Cowboys' 10 tracks, the band showcases their serious musical versatility, bringing together influences from bluegrass, heavy metal, outlaw country and classic rock and roll for a sound that truly is unlike any other act out there. It's music that's made to be experienced live, too, as many of the album's songs have already been road-tested at the Josephines' characteristically energetic live shows, which attract a devoted following of fans looking to have a good time.
Cocaine or Cowboys opens with the foot-stomping anthem "Fireball," which tells of a "fireball" of a girl who's "so damn mean" but nevertheless manages to steal the narrator's heart. Lead singer Bradley Tabor tells the story with a lonesome wail, while the band anchors his vocal in a crunchy wall of twang. The track is the perfect encapsulation of what the Josephines do best: setting real, relatable stories to music that gets your heart beating and feet moving.
Second track "Set Me on Fire" explores the darker side of drug use and the realities of addiction, telling the story of a down-and-out guy who finds hope and healing in the woman he loves. The song is pure rock and roll, but melodic guitar from Zach and Alex Lindsey and a soaring chorus vocal ground double down on the emotional story at the lyric's core. "'Set Me on Fire' came from a conversation in the kitchen with Zach. We were talking about how easy it is to overdose and how strange it is, and how you can die so quickly," Tabor says. "It’s almost like a snapshot. So this girl is there to help him out and he’s reminiscing about the past. He’s thinking about picking her up, going out, having all these good memories but, from the beginning, he’s in bad shape. She’s his fire to live and he doesn’t have much of that left."
"Broadway" laments the struggles of aspiring musicians who head to Nashville to try to make it big, with the album taking its title from the song's anthemic chorus. "She moved down to Nashville to be a big star / It's been 10 years, she's still tending bar," Tabor sings in the first verse, before warning, "Don't fall in love with cocaine or cowboys / They'll take all your money and leave you alone." "We’re telling the story of two hopeful young people," Tabor says. "One of those people is the bartender you see everywhere, who’s getting into music and moved to Nashville to try. That’s a hopeful feeling and it works for some people. But then you get down, and it’s easy to get down in a town like that. The second verse is describing a man who has to get out of town and irrationally decides he can make it in Nashville."
"Sarah's Lincoln" is a mournful ballad about losing a loved one, with Tabor channeling his own heartbreak after a difficult break-up into a story of a young man unexpectedly losing his wife. On "Satansfield," the band turns up the intensity for a barn-burning, bluegrass-inspired rocker about seeking vengeance against a two-timing ex-lover. "We're not here to sing about cookies and rainbows and shit," Tabor says. "That's not what we're about." Whether fans come to The Josephines for the honest stories they tell or for their loud, rowdy guitars, the band is just happy to connect with others through the music they love to make. "That’s the cool thing about us," Tabor says. "Some people listen to our music for the lyrics and others just like a party, some even do both. It doesn’t matter why you listen to it as long as it does something for you."