After 62 years of traveling the bluegrass road – spanning all but a few years of the music’s rich history – Bobby Osborne could be forgiven if all he wanted to do was sit on the front porch of a cozy cabin in Kentucky and relax.
Why not? There isn’t much he hasn’t done. With his brother Sonny and their band, Bobby was a pioneer of high-lead trio singing. He’s in the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor, has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1964 and can claim two – TWO! – recordings as official state songs. Rocky Top, of course, is the anthem of Tennessee. The other song is Kentucky.
Fortunately for the rest of us, Bobby isn’t the retiring type. Instead of sitting around on the porch, he and the Rocky Top X-Press have offered up New Bluegrass & Old Heartaches on the Rural Rhythm Records label. From beginning to end, this 10-song project has the relaxed feel of a handful of friends who don’t need to prove anything to each other. They just jamming away and enjoy each other’s company.
The project has a decades-old sound, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s just the five original bluegrass instruments – mandolin, banjo, guitar, fiddle and doghouse bass – tight harmonies and songs about home, heartbreak and, in the grand bluegrass tradition, a lovers’ triangle murder (I Wrecked My Life for You, written by band member Glen Duncan.)
The solos are straightforward and restrained, always in touch with the melody. But there’s nothing that says simplicity can’t be elegant. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Glen’s fiddling on any of these songs and trust your ears.
I’m Going Back to the Mountain kicks off the CD in fine fashion. The tale of longing to get out of the rat race and returning to a simpler life in the country is one of two songs here from the pen of Jake Landers, formerly of the Dixie Gentlemen. Bobby’s tenor, one of the most recognized voices in bluegrass, still rings. The years have cost him some power and a bit of range, but as this song demonstrates, Bobby at 90% remains a very good thing.
Other highlights are the Paul Craft-written Heartache Looking for a Home, and Low and Lonely, penned by the legendary Fred Rose, of Acuff-Rose fame.
Heartache and The Old Oak Tree, another Jake Landers song, offer proof that the Osborne sound will be around for many years to come. Bobby Jr., known as Boj, ably sings lead on the choruses, with dad on tenor and Glen filling the baritone role. Boj takes the tenor and baritone parts on other songs and lays down a solid bass line throughout. (Boj also co-produced and mixed the recording.)
For good measure, there’s a long-forgotten song Bobby wrote called The Last Bridge You’ll Ever Burn. Bobby Jr. found a demo from the 1970s that had been buried in his father’s archives. I would have loved hearing Bobby and Sonny pair up on this one in their prime.
That can’t happen, of course. But we can enjoy New Bluegrass & Old Heartaches, and cherish the fact that when Bobby Osborne sits down on the front porch, he still has a mandolin in his hands, a song on his lips and a talented band at his side.