At first glance, you might mistake Truett Heintzelman and Philip Lupton for brothers. After all, the two men who comprise the folk duo Briscoe share more than a passing resemblance, both with shaggy red hair poking out from underneath flat brim caps and scruffy beards. People have been making the same assumption ever since the pair first met and started hanging out at a Central Texas summer camp as high schoolers. But things aren’t always what they seem.
Sparse banjo plucks ring out in the opening seconds of Briscoe’s debut album, West of It All, which came out this past fall. The next several songs lean into pristine modern folk, built on strummed guitars, beautifully crooned harmonies, and lyrics about coyotes and long roads. But by the last song on the album, the sonic palette has erupted into a sweaty and soul-fueled frenzy of Southern rock. In short, you might think you have this band sized up after a few numbers, but stay tuned. This is something else entirely.
To be fair, Briscoe has a knack for being unexpected. For most of the 2000s, folk artists haven’t been able to resist the allure of cosplaying as characters from a bygone era, donning suspenders, polyester pants, and wide-brim hats. But Briscoe eschews any of that affected presentation of folk. They come across as a couple of relaxed dudes who seem just as likely to hit you with a “hang loose” gesture as they are to pick up a banjo. And these songs work around a campfire on a sunset beach almost as much as they work around a bonfire on a dusky ranch.
Undoubtedly, one of the duo’s strengths is how incredibly polished they are as musicians in their early 20s who just released their first LP. But Lupton, who is from San Angelo, was honing his songwriting craft all the way back in high school, and the two friends have been talking musical affinities for around a decade—a long friendship that has given them a dynamic chemistry. The collaboration really heated up while the pair attended college together at the University of Texas beginning in 2019. “We know each other like brothers, so we can pick up ideas that we’re bouncing off each other,” Lupton says. “That really helps with our harmonies and understanding each other’s phrasing.”
Fans of groups like the Avett Brothers will find much to like in the pair’s well-crafted, breezy tunes. But Briscoe has a secret weapon in its disparate influences, including elements of blues and soul. The first hints of that come mid-album in “When the Desert,” with its whining guitar, percussive groove, and wailing harmonica. Those tendencies reach fruition in Lupton’s saxophone freak outs on the album’s closer, “Hill Country Baby.”
Heintzelman, a San Antonio native, calls that “genuine instrumentation.” He elaborates by saying that the duo decided to organically embrace any of the weapons at their disposal: “Philip can seamlessly pick a guitar and then trade that for banjo and then trade that for a saxophone,” he says. “It’s just such a cool advantage and gives us some room to find our own little niche with our sound.” If you somehow make it through the whole record without picking up on the band’s soulful side, they made it clear for you by releasing a recent cover of the Bill Withers classic, “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Beyond the band’s undeniable raw talent, they’ve got some noteworthy backers in their corner. West of It All came out on ATO records, a label started by Dave Matthews and home to Alabama Shakes, Jim James, and Old 97s. Plus, their management team, Ten Atoms, also handles Black Pumas, another Austin outfit whose star is soaring. Last year’s tour dates included an appearance at Bonnaroo, and you can expect to see Briscoe pop up as festival lineups get announced this year. In short, you’re going to be hearing the name a lot in 2024.
In support of West of It All, the band will hit the road for a string of U.S. dates that kicks off with two shows in far West Texas, first in Lubbock and then El Paso, before the tour traverses the American West. Lupton and Heintzelman are excited to get out that way, since it was those windswept open spaces that initially inspired their debut. “This record was largely influenced by the Hill Country and West Texas,” Lupton says. “Life just moves slower out there.”