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Bobby Osborne

Original – 2017 (Compass)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Bobby Osborne

One of the most celebrated of tenors, Bobby Osborne is a legend of bluegrass and country and has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for more than half a century. Osborne started as a bluegrass professional in the music's earliest years. With his banjo-wielding brother, Sonny, he plied his trade as an impressive mandolinist and lead singer, achieving popular success on country charts with "Ruby," "Once More," "Making Plans" and, of course, "Rocky Top." For more than a decade, Osborne has fronted The Rocky Top X-Press, recording several strong albums during that time.

Rather than recording with his band (RTX appear on only a pair of numbers), Osborne and producer Alison Brown elected to surround the 85 year old with Nashville's finest acoustic pickers.

Sierra Hull handles much of the mandolin, while other familiar names -Stuart Duncan, Rob Ickes, Todd Phillips, Missy Raines and Brown, among others -abound. Osborne is limited in mando appearances, including trading licks with Sam Bush on the lively "Eight More Miles."

The album's strongest moments occur straight off the top. An atmospheric "They Call the Wind Maria" and an impassioned "Goodbye Wheeling," featuring the McCoury brothers instrumentally and Del on harmony, set a high bar for the rest of the album. "Kentucky Morning" further elevates the album; this new Darrell Scott number, featuring fellow Kentuckians Scott and Dale Ann Bradley on harmony, sounds like it was written for Osborne.

With the Rocky Top X-Press, "Country Boy" and "Just In Case" are solid performances revealing Osborne's authentic approach to music. In a production masterstroke, Vince Gill harmonizes on "Make the World Go Away," a type of song Osborne has long favored. Renditions of "Don't Be Cruel" and "I Gotta Get A Message to You" are superfluous.

With a fair amount of country mixed with his bluegrass, Bobby Osborne remains strong of voice revealing no signs of slowing down on "Original."