I realize that I’ve been crowing about this CD since March but despite that, I am not on the payroll of Compass Records, Bobby Osborne or anyone else related to this project. I was hesitant to say anything more than I’ve already said on the air, but just in case you weren’t listening…. jm
Compass Records 2017
At the mere mention of his name, Eddie Stubbs could simply utter his famous by-line: “Are there any questions?”.
At the same time, I’m reminded that there are a lot of folks who have recently taken a plunge into Bluegrass and who may not be familiar with Bobby or perhaps only know Rocky Top. So, with that caveat, here goes a look at Bobby’s brand new project Original.
‘Legend acts’ can sometimes cause producers and fans alike a lot of worry. They expect to turn a deaf ear to this or that problem simply because the legend has had such a stellar career. There’s no need to worry with this one. While it would have been much safer to retread common ground and deal in nostalgia, here we find the participants riding the edge of the envelope and challenging each other to do their best work. Alison Brown did a masterful job in gathering the people that play on the CD. Bobby sings freely and many, including Sierra Hull, Stuart Duncan, Del McCoury, Jim Lauderdale, Darrell Scott, Sam Bush and Dale Ann Bradley are more than willing to join in the party. Alison and Bobby worked together to select some interesting songs for the CD and each song holds its own in the mix. For example, Kentucky Morning could well be seen as autobiographical though it was written by Darrell Scott. Mel Tillis wrote Goodbye Wheeling years ago, but it suits Bobby’s voice and life story to a tee as the Osborne Brothers spent a fair amount of time in Wheeling early in their career. The playfulness of Bobby, Jim Hurst and Sam Bush on Don’t Be Cruel provides a fresh take on the Elvis classic and the refreshed version of the out of print song Pathway of Teardrops is a welcome closer for the disc. Original is nostalgic without being hollow; it stretches without ever being in danger of tearing. To be sure, the idea of a tune from the Elvis or Bee Gees catalogs (much less a Broadway show) could certainly come off as gimmicky or silly were it not for the professionalism and experience of Bobby, Alison and the other players involved. In this case, all of the tunes from other places were brought into Bobby’s wheelhouse and he stewards them well. All in all, it is a joy to hear from start to finish (and then to hit the repeat button….).
The CD is a little more relaxed in pace than many of today’s Bluegrass projects, but that doesn’t mean it lacks anything in terms of energy. It’s methodical without losing any sense of spontaneity.
If there is a downside to Original, it is the length. Ten cuts, tracking at just over 34 minutes in length is a little short. Having said that, these particular 34 minutes contain much more to chew on than many 45-50 minute projects I’ve heard. In fact, it’s only short by standards of the last 20 years, I suppose. Many Bluegrass tunes over the years were less than three minutes (some closer to two) and there were rarely more than twelve on a single LP, so Original is within that frame.
In my mind, it stands as one of three very essential projects of the last few years alongside Orthophonic Joy and Mac Wiseman: I Sang the Song. Each of these is an important document, whether about an event or a life spent in music. This celebration of Bobby’s life is as unique as he is.
Perhaps one reason for the strength of the project is Bobby’s (and Alison’s, for that matter) willingness to tackle most anything and his knowledge of his abilities/limitations at this point. He doesn’t strain or make the voice try to do something it can’t. With that as his only boundary, his approach is, as he told me recently: “if you don’t try, you’ll never know!”
I’m very glad he did and now we all know- he’s still one of the best.
At this point, I don’t rate projects so as to avoid comparisons, but if I gave out stars or clovers or whatever, this would have 11…. It’s like ten, but one more…
They Call the Wind Maria
I’ve Gotta Get A Message to You
Make the World Go Away
Just In Case
Don’t Be Cruel
Eight More Miles
Pathway of Teardrops