Album Review: SUSTO-And I’m Fine Today

It was Memorial Day 2015 when I first heard “Cosmic Cowboy”, the 8th track off & I’m Fine Today, and the first song from the album debuted on our 2016 Sampler. I remember a lot about that day. I remember not only hearing that song for the first time, but knowing it by heart after one listen. I remember SUSTO brainchild Justin Osborne getting a tattoo above Art Bar in Columbia, SC that simply shows the date 5/19 and says “Never Forget” below it. The story behind it I won’t tell here, but it serves as a permanent ode to a narrow escape from a possible arrest on tour. It made “Cosmic Cowboy” and the call of “always screaming fuck the cops” a more apt memory that day.

5/19 Never Forget Photo by Jess Spence

In some ways, “Cosmic Cowboy” is a perfect introduction to the new album, and in others it isn’t. The whole song fights stereotypes, which is totally SUSTO. Hard to pin down as simply an Americana band, which they’ve fallen into on a national level, but this album especially pushes those limits right off the bat with “Far Out Feeling”. On first listen I couldn’t help but hear the intro as a subtle Brave Baby reference, though I doubt it was. The whole vibe of “Far Out Feeling” marks a decided shift in SUSTO’s style, and a huge shift from Osborne’s style overall in his nearly 15 year career. When the strings come in especially, you hear something big, and for the first time I realized, OK, SUSTO’s got this, they’re taking it to another level.

“Cosmic Cowboy” doesn’t push those same musical limits, it’s a tried and true lyrical song. That’s traditionally lead singer Justin Osborne’s wheelhouse, and it is again on this album, but for the first time in his musical career the music surrounding his lyrics is on another level. That’s due to the fact that for the first time as SUSTO, Osborne was surrounded by a consistent group of uber talented musicians who helped develop the songs for over a year on the road. And while they were back in their hometown of Charleston not on tour, they were in the studio working on what & I’m Fine Today turned out to be, even if they didn’t realize they were working on this album the entire time. Just last summer it was rumored that & I’m Fine Today might just be an EP, but over time more songs developed and the album made more sense.

& I’m Fine Today is no “sophomore slump”, but a defining piece of work. When you write and perform, and have the audience that Osborne’s had for the amount of time he has, he knows how it all works. He’s finally got it somewhat figured out. What it takes to be more than local. The type of people you need around you, helping not only to create, but to manage it all. This isn’t his first rodeo, and with the release of & I’m Fine Today they did it all the right way as is evidenced by appearances on CBS, Paste Magazine, Rolling Stone, and the numerous other high-profile press outlets they’ve appeared in lately. It took a long time to get to where they are, just look at the length of their hair from the early days til now. They surely feel the difference at this point. A lot of the towns they’re hitting on their current tour they’ve visited time and time before, each of those visits creating relationships that helped build their audience from the ground up.

In one interview years ago Osborne opened up about how much he loved the open road and traveling, and hearing people’s stories. His passion to tell stories shines through on nearly every song, but especially on songs like “Hard Drugs”, “Mystery Man”, and “Mountain Top”. “Waves”, “Gay in the South”, and “Jah Werx” are beautifully written songs in a different way. They’re songs filled with love, and comfort, and hint at something bigger. “Is there anybody out there controlling the tide/tell me why’s there so much trouble, when we live in such a remarkable place” sings Osborne on “Waves”. In “Gay in the South” he sings “They promised us you were going straight to hell when you died/I know now hell is nothing but a head space.” God, church, and higher powers come up often when people write about or discuss SUSTO. That’s fair, because it’s a frequent reference point for him as a writer. Personally, I’ve been comfortable for years hearing and feeling that God is love, and love is what I hear in Osborne’s words, and the passion in his voice. Then to close the album with “Jah Werx”, that “spaghetti monster in the sky” as Johnny Delaware referenced in their live video for the song, it makes it more clear where this album and the band is coming from.

This album was written and recorded in a trying time in American history. Where our political climate is very divided, with people who believe one thing and do another. With people who are accepting of others and their true selves, and people who don’t understand and rather you stay in line. It only makes sense that influenced this album. What I come away with is comfort and a more open mind of acceptance. I just feel love in this album after every listen.