Review: Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press: Memories

Celebrating Bobby’s 60th Anniversary as a Professional Entertainer

Bobby Osborne is a bluegrass legend who doesn’t seem to put himself in a box called “bluegrass.” The Osborne Brothers used electric instruments, steel guitar, harmonica and drums on their albums and Opry shows for many decades, and often made a point of declaring that bluegrass and country music weren’t two different things, just variations on the same idea. That essential idea- that bluegrass is country music and vice versa- is expressed clearly on Memories, Bobby’s album celebrating 60 years of performing. He’s no longer with the Osborne Brothers, Sonny having retired in 2005, but clearly sets his current band, the Rocky Top X-Press, on the foundation set by his years with his brother and the scores of musicians who worked with them.

This is a nostalgic album in some ways; Bobby restates a couple of Osborne Brothers classics, including “Ruby,” “Up this Hill and Down,” and of course, “Rocky Top,” and other than showing that, man, he’s still got the chops, it’s not entirely clear to me why these songs were recorded without noticeable innovations from the classic arrangements. Well, that’s not quite true; on Ruby he has a Japanese shamisen (stringed instrument) jamming along with the banjo, and while it’s cool, it fits in so well that the song doesn’t feel updated enough to warrant rerecording. But hey, it’s his album, and it’s still a great song.

“Up This Hill And Down”

New songs are also nostalgic: “Bring Back Yesterday,” is, quite literally, a song about reminiscing, and although “I’ve Seen it All” was written by Daryl Mosley, it’s basically an autobiography in song, with Bobby recounting his adventures and triumphs with kind of a “who woulda thunk it” sense of wonder. Patty Loveless sings with Bobby on Memories, which feels more Ernest Tubb than Bean Blossom; it is to Bobby’s credit that I was sure I’d heard this before, but no, it’s a new, but old-sounding song, written by Bobby himself. Special mention must be made of two outstanding mandolin instrumentals (admittedly, this reviewer’s favorite kind): “Man From Rosine,” a tribute to Bill Monroe, featuring David Grisman, Ronnie McCoury and even David Harvey on mandola and mandocello! Aside from the synthesizer intro and fadeout (! ! !), it’s a bluegrass classic, as is “Bobby Van Waltz,” featuring the same set of mandolin family guest collaborators.

In addition to Patty Loveless and the three guest mandolinists, other names familiar to me included Glen Duncan on fiddle, Sammy Shelor on banjo, and Emory Gordy on bass- but purists, take note, many of the tracks have steel guitar, overdubbed fiddle harmonies and guitar tracks laid down by Bobby himself behind his mandolin. Many tracks feature drum, too, and weirdly, I could not find the drummers name on the musician’s credits- did they think that by not listing his name the Bluegrass Police wouldn’t notice?

All in all, Memories is a fine album, but it even the new material looks backwards over a distinguished career, which is perhaps the point of an anniversary album. It’s country, it’s bluegrass, it’s Southern acoustic music, but it’s firmly rooted in the unmistakable Osborne style- there’s nothing quite like it.

Rural Rhythm 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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