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 bandâ€™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 bandâ€™s playing and the vitality of the singing.
Following Sonnyâ€™s retirement in 2006, Bobby Osborne formed the Rocky Top X-Press. On this fourth outing, the focus is split between Osborneâ€™s vocals and the bandâ€™s instrumental talents. Winningly, the band spends time down-tempo, giving thoughtful performances on instrumentals like â€œMan from Rosine,â€ and welcoming guest performances from David Grisman and Ronnie McCoury. There is some requisite hot-picking, as Mike Toppinsâ€™ fingers fly across his banjo strings and Glen Duncanâ€™s bow turns into a blur on the groupâ€™s cover of â€œRocky Top,â€ but even here itâ€™s Osborneâ€™s high, keening vocal that gives the arrangement its identity.
Several songs turn on nostalgic thoughts, with Osborne singing behind Russell Mooreâ€™s lead on â€œMountain Feverâ€ and taking the lead on Glen Duncanâ€™s ballad, â€œBring Back Yesterday.â€ Even the broken hearts are reminiscences of those that got away; Osborne duets with Audie Blaylock on â€œWith a Pain in My Heartâ€ and harmonizes beautifully with Patty Loveless on the albumâ€™s title track. At 79, Osborneâ€™s voice is still powerful and moving, whether singing a ballad like Glen Duncanâ€™s â€œBring Back Yesterdayâ€ or hanging it all out with a yodel for his signature â€œRuby.â€ Entering his seventh decade as a musician, Bobby Osborneâ€™s still singing with authority and leading a crackerjack band. [Â©2011 hyperbolium dot com]