Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-Press
New Bluegrass & Old Heartaches
Rural Rhythm Records
4.5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Bluegrass takes care of its legends, if only in praise. We hold up the champions of the music as icons and revere their every word. When they walk by, we pause and fall silent. To the broader entertainment business, they may be mere footnotes within the histories of WSM, the Grand Ole Opry, WWVA, and hillbilly music. Within the bluegrass community, the names Sonny and Bobby are as recognizable as Waylon and Willie.
When Sonny set aside his banjo several years ago, his elder brother Bobby was provided the opportunity to carry on the Osborne sound. Since 2005, he has done so with every bit of the precision and flair he brought to his first 55 years in the music. Now well past 60 years as a bluegrass music professional, Bobby Osborne shows no signs of slowing down.
His most recent album, and his fifth since 2006’s Try a Little Kindness, is New Bluegrass & Old Heartaches. And boy, is it a good one!
The first thing one may notice while listening to this rather brief album is the timbre of Bobby Osborne’s voice. The vocal nuance and flexibility he has always brought to his music remains. His approach to a song is as distinctive as ever. Listening to “Heartache Looking for a Home” one would swear that it is a performance from the Seventies. It sounds so recognizable and is of such quality that it appears to be of that now classic era. (It should seem familiar, as Bobby and Sonny recorded the song for MCA before Charlie Sizemore used it as the title track for his under-heralded album last year.)
Still, it is obvious that Bobby isn’t the 37 year-old youngster who recorded “Rocky Top” in 1968. His vocal chords aren’t quite as elastic as they once were, but one accepts this with the same realism that—at some point—one greets each day.
Another song from the catalog of the Brothers O is “Muddy Waters,” the often recorded Phil Rosenthal song. I’ve never been fortunate to hear the Osborne’s 1974 take of the song, but I can’t imagine it being more intense than the version here. An old Jake Landers song “The Old Oak Tree” is given a beautiful refreshing, while another Landers song “I’m Going Back to the Mountain” kicks off the album in fine style; like “Muddy Waters,” this is a song the Osbornes recorded in May, 1974 but which wasn’t released by the label.
“The Last Bridge You’ll Burn” is a song Bobby Jr. (Boj) found within his father’s archives. How a song this good could be misplaced is beyond me—if I ever write anything half this good, you can be sure it won’t be sitting in a dusty closet!
The vocal arrangements are largely trios with Boj most often singing the baritone and Glen Duncan the low tenor. The musicianship is impressive with Bobby taking care of the mandolin (listen to his picking on “Low and Lonely” and prepare to be impressed) while Duncan handles the fiddle and Boj the bass. Joe Miller contributes some very nice guitar while Mike Toppins is featured on the six(!)-string banjo.
I purchased New Bluegrass & Old Heartaches shortly after it was released this past May, and was pleased when the album was assigned to me this month. It is an album that deserves considered listening, and while not perfect in every aspect one overlooks minor faults within the bounty that is another stellar recording from a bluegrass legend.