Inexplicably never released on CD or MP3, this live album finds one of bluegrass’ most seminal and innovative groups performing a largely career retrospective set in 1981. The Osborne Brothers are most famous for their quirky bluegrass hit ‘Rocky Top’ (performed in all its frantic glory here), which has been covered by everyone from Dillard & Clark (just months after the song’s release) to Phish (who continue to cover it live today). The Osbornes certainly belong in the upper echelon of bluegrass greats, merging traditionally-influenced vocal harmonies with radical instrumentation typically associated with country music including drums and pedal steel guitar.
Although I was a bit tentative of an unknown live album by the Osborne Brothers recorded years after their conventional prime, the alluring crate digging appeal of ‘how could it not be worth two bucks?’ fortunately won over and led to a very nice discovery. The album has the feel of a backyard family reunion and home turf showcase for the band, recorded live at Opryland’s Theatre by the Lake (the Osborne Brothers had been inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry in 1964). As mentioned in the liner notes, penned by Sonny Osborne himself and brimming with enthusiasm over what was captured, this was the band’s first attempt at a live record – almost shocking considering the length and prominence of their career.
Deliberately or not, the context of the album perfectly frames the Osborne Brothers place in the history of roots music, embraced by the worlds of bluegrass and country music. Introduced by Roy Acuff, the ‘King of Country Music’, the album also features legendary bluegrass singer Mac Wiseman on ‘Remembering’ and ‘I’d Rather Live on the Side of the Road’, who sang with both Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, now suddenly singing in front of a pedal steel guitar, an instrument never associated bluegrass before the Osborne Brothers. Of course bluegrass singers have never come much better than Bobby Osborne, who really shows off his vocal range on ‘Bluegrass Melodies’, and explosive mandolin playing throughout.