Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Top X-Press: Bluegrass and Beyond

If there was a “truth in labeling” law for bluegrass albums, the latest Bobby Osborne release would be in perfect compliance: it is, in fact, bluegrass, but goes beyond the classic forms of traditional bluegrass, both for the source of its songs and in the interpretations of them. To me, the Osborne Brothers were always about the proposition
that bluegrass music was country music (maybe not western, but not always so far off) and as a top-level bluegrass act they always seemed like they were about Nashville as much as the old cabin on the hill.

The latest Bobby Osborne solo album continues this connection: it’s not just that he does songs first made famous by Jerry Reed and Eddie Rabbit, it’s also that each song on this album fits a classic bluegrass or country theme: infidelity; temptation and sin; personal redemption; coal mining;  the eternal love of the fallen soldier (Confederate at that); the driving life; and the rambling man who won’t settle down. It’s almost like Bobby set out to do the definitive acoustic country version of each of these genres, to show the younger folks how it’s done.

I use the phrase acoustic country above because there are two dominant sounds on this album: Bobby Osborne’s voice and Glenn Duncan’s fiddle.  Most of the songs don’t even have a mandolin solo in them- Matt Despain’s dobro is probably more prominent than Bobby’s mandolin or Dana Cupp’s banjo, which is another reason this album is bluegrass, and beyond. Turning down the volume on the banjo also signals the listener: this is not an Osborne Brothers album, but a Bobby Osborne record, putting his high and amazingly expressive voice front and center, more like classic country music than fiery instrumental bluegrass.

“What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul”

Bobby still has his mandolin chops: “What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul” feels like Bobby is nodding towards Bill Monroe, acknowledging the earlier master as an influence- but this isn’t a typical modern bluegrass album where each instrument takes a break in each song. Rather, it’s Bobby Osborne music, where the emotions come first and the breaks support the song, rather than the reverse, typical of many “hot” bands. Every player here is top of the line, but you don’t have a sense that anybody is showing off- they’re supporting the song, and the singer, and making great, heartfelt music, true to the heart of what country and bluegrass are all about.

Rounder Records

Neal Loevinger

Neal Loevinger is a hospital chaplain who loves things that start with the letter B, like bluegrass, bourbon, bikes and books. He is the proud father of two kids who may yet learn to appreciate bluegrass like he does.

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