Ten years ago, I started a feature in the local bluegrass association's newsletter that I called "Gold...In A Way." Each issue I would examine a bluegrass 'back catalogue' title that I appreciated. In this way, I looked at albums that either I missed writing about 'the first time around' or albums that pre-dated the time I began writing about roots music. These were albums that I thought were important, albums I cared about for some reason. Of course, the only way these albums would ever be 'gold' is in their musical value, not in copies sold.
As mentioned earlier this spring in this space, I had intended on resurrecting "Gold...In A Way." Life has interfered with that plan, and it is only now that I have time to attempt such an undertaking again. Thanks for your patience with me this summer as I've neglected Fervor Coulee Bluegrass in favor of setting up our new home.
This past week the International Bluegrass Music Association award nominees were announced. My reaction to the announcement was quite muted, although I was pleased to see some favorites recognized. Still, more commonly, I was left wondering, Huh? With the exception of Dale Ann Bradley and Alison Krauss, the Female Vocalist field is underwhelming, in my opinion. Nothing against her personally, but I'm not sure why Sonya Isaacs is nominated annually as she seldom records while the other ladies either didn't release anything this past year or had little 'action' with what was released. In fact, while she isn't a favorite of mine personally, Carrie Hassler likely deserves a nomination over three of those on the list and any time Laurie Lewis is over-looked, I have to think there is a problem.
The song of the year list is strong although I have to wonder how Chris Jones' Final Farewell missed the cut. It was nice to see The Special Consensus get a nod for Monroe and AKUS get recognized for their "Paper Airplane" album. It was, however, the male vocalist list that gave me considerable pause, and inspired me to go to the bluegrass shelf (now that the discs are unpacked from the move) this week.
I have no problem with Russell Moore and Jamie Dailey getting noms; while they not be my cup o' tea, I understand that they had considerable chart action over the last year and they are popular. Audie Blaylock, no probs. Ditto Dan Tyminski. But Vince Gill? Really? I must have missed his recent bluegrass release. Hey, I get it. He played some bluegrass dates recently. But Male Vocalist of the Year? I don't think so.
A quick look at the bluegrass charts from earlier this year reveal about a dozen singers that should be there ahead of Vince: How about Junior Sisk? Larry Stephenson? Steve Gulley? Heck, Blue Highway's Wayne Taylor has been more prominent in the bluegrass world than Vince- and he sings pretty good, too. Lou Reid. The guys from Balsam Range and The Boxcars? Del? (And what about not a mention of The Del McCoury Band's tribute to Bill Monroe anywhere on the awards nominees lists?) Larry Sparks, anyone?
I know, I know...the IBMA members vote and this is what they came up with. Fair enough. I'll retire my soapbox for now. But, the name that I thought should have been on the male vocalist of the year list, and wasn't and hasn't been as far as I know in recent memory, is Bobby Osborne. Man, he can sing. The passing of years hasn't slowed him down, and his voice is still very enjoyable as a listen to as his recent "New Bluegrass & Old Heartaches" demonstrates. All of which led me to decide to take another look at Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-Press's Rounder debut of 2006, "Try a Little Kindness." Based on a review written at the time of release, here are my thoughts on an excellent album that turned out to be the first in a series to demonstrate that bluegrass is a better place with Bobby Osborne recording.
Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-Press "Try A Little Kindness"
Rounder 0552 2006
As half of the legendary Osborne Brothers, Bobby Osborne not only helped define bluegrass music, he pushed its boundaries through the use of drums, electric bass, and most significantly innovative harmony structures.
When brother Sonny retired, Bobby elected to retain the rights to the most recent Osborne Brothers band lineup, adding fiddler (and album co-producer) Glen Duncan and son Jr., while getting back to a whole-hearted acoustic, bluegrass state of mind; `"Try A Kittle Kindness" contains none of the elements that coloured his less than successful electric country "The Selfishness in Man" recording of several years ago. Additionally, it is a stronger collection than the very fine "Where I Come From" that OMS released in 2002.
The result is an outstanding album, one with astute song choices both classic (mining the catalogues of Hazel Dickens, Bill Anderson, Bill Monroe, the Stanleys, Kris Kristofferson, and Paul Simon) and contemporary (Josh Turner's Long Black Train, which cried out for a bluegrass treatment from first listen.) A Jake Landers song Hard Times has a perfect Osborne Brothers feel, with its details of life on the farm juxtaposing with the difficulties of urban situations when the country has been left behind. It serves as the ideal album opener, bridging the gap between yesterday and today.
West Virginia, My Home appears tailor-made for Bobby, lacking only some harmony from songwriter Hazel Dickens to make it timeless. Sunday Morning Coming Down, with a minor lyrical rewrite ("I'm wishing, Lord, that I was stoned" is amended to "Wishing, Lord that I was home") sounds like it was written as a bluegrass song with banjo poppin' it along. The vocal trio of Mansion for Me, with Daryl Mosley and Glen Duncan helping to recreate the classic Osborne sound, is a highlight.
The banjo playing of Dana Cupp is tremendously important to the album's overall feel, with Bobby's mandolin work as sharp as ever. Duncan demonstrates his mastery of the fiddle on nearly every track, dropping in little trills and then tearing it apart on his breaks. He also takes Sonny's place on the harmonies to good effect. The band lights it up on the Rocky Top X-Press instrumental, while Tim Graves- nephew of Uncle Josh- offers tasteful Dobro® flourishes throughout.
The disc lacks weakness; one would be hard pressed to find Bobby's voice betraying any ill effect of singing high lead and tenor in bluegrass bands for almost 60 years. He holds onto the notes of songs including The Fields Have Turned Brown and It's Gonna Be Rainin' Til I Die as he always has.
The notes from Eddie Stubbs are terrifically detailed, tracing Bobby's place in bluegrass while tying this album to past influences and accomplishments.
Many may consider Bobby Osborne's most influential years well behind him; "Try A Little Kindness" confidently delivers the message that this is one pioneering bluegrass legend that will not be led gently to the shadows of the stage.
In the years that followed, Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-Press would release "Bluegrass Melodies" and "Bluegrass & Beyond" for Rounder before going the Rural Rhythm route for subsequent releases including "Memories," a terrific album that revisits the music of the Osborne Brothers (and which I just purchased via download last night), and this year's excellent "New Bluegrass & Old Heartaches." The band lineup has changed since "Try A Little Kindness" was released, but the music remains strong. It is definitely an album that is "Gold...In A Way."
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, and I'll try to post more regularly! Donald