Review: Bobby Osborne – Memories (Rural Rhythm, 2010)
Vocalist and mandolin player Bobby Osborne has been a legend in the bluegrass world for over sixty years, starting with his radio debut in 1948. With his sights set initially on becoming a country singer, he learned guitar, became a trailblazing mandolin player, and with his soaring tenor voice, a beloved bluegrass singer. Together with his brother Sonny he pioneered changes, such as adding pedal steel and drums to their band’s lineup, that many purists decried. No doubt the drums included on most of these tracks will engender similar criticism, but to fixate on the drumming is to miss the beauty of the band’s playing and the vitality of the singing.
Following Sonny’s retirement in 2006, Bobby Osborne formed the Rocky Top X-Press. On this fourth outing, the focus is split between Osborne’s vocals and the band’s instrumental talents. Winningly, the band spends time down-tempo, giving thoughtful performances on instrumentals like “Man from Rosine,” and welcoming guest performances from David Grisman and Ronnie McCoury. There is some requisite hot-picking, as Mike Toppins’ fingers fly across his banjo strings and Glen Duncan’s bow turns into a blur on the group’s cover of “Rocky Top,” but even here it’s Osborne’s high, keening vocal that gives the arrangement its identity.
Several songs turn on nostalgic thoughts, with Osborne singing behind Russell Moore’s lead on “Mountain Fever” and taking the lead on Glen Duncan’s ballad, “Bring Back Yesterday.” Even the broken hearts are reminiscences of those that got away; Osborne duets with Audie Blaylock on “With a Pain in My Heart” and harmonizes beautifully with Patty Loveless on the album’s title track. At 79, Osborne’s voice is still powerful and moving, whether singing a ballad like Glen Duncan’s “Bring Back Yesterday” or hanging it all out with a yodel for his signature “Ruby.” Entering his seventh decade as a musician, Bobby Osborne’s still singing with authority and leading a crackerjack band.