The Osborne Brothers
The Ernest Tubb Song Folio – Volume 1
Pinecastle PRC 1039
review by Art Menius
From roughly 1956 through 1971, when they won the Country Music Association’s Vocal Group of the Year Award, the Osborne Brothers defined the cutting edge of bluegrass music. They created a distinctive style that remained bluegrass but also appealed to country listeners. Besides the hit “Rocky Top” and lasting innovations in instrumentation and playing styles, Bobby and Sonny completely rewrote the rule book for bluegrass harmony arrangements. Their high lead breakthrough permitted Bobby Osborne to sing lead with his high, clear voice with both the baritone and tenor pitched below.
Yet Bobby had longed to imitate the late Ernest Tubb, the Texas baritone who reigned as king as medium tempo honky-tonk. At their creative peak in 1967 the Osbornes recorded bluegrass adaptations of the Texas Troubadour’s “Let’s Say Goodbye, Like We Said Hello” and the signature “Walking The Floor Over You,” the latter reprised here. An icon of the post-World War II Grand Ole Opry, E.T.’s deep taped voice opens The Ernest Tubb Song Folio – Volume 1 introducing the Osbornes on the Opry.
Their second PineCastle disc finds the Osbornes and their current crackerjack band having their way with a dozen Tubb titles, mostly of 1940s vintage. That means we hear honky-tonkers (“Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin”) sentimental melodies (“Letters Have No Arms”), Texas anthems (“There’s A Little Bit of Everything in Texas,” “Waltz Across Texas”), and World War II tunes (“Rainbow At Midnight,” “Soldier’s Last Letter”). The latter reflects both the E.T. canon and that Bobby, who sings solo lead on almost every cut, was a Purple Heart Korean War veteran who grew up during The Big One.
The Osborne Brothers’ greatness lies in the ability to adapt almost any kind of material to their kind of bluegrass. The Ernest Tubb Song Folio – Volume 1 demonstrates that strength yet again, although none of these slow to medium tempo numbers could be deemed driving bluegrass, save for “Walking The Floor” and the delightful “Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin.” At sixty three Bobby’s voice is not the piercing, keening instrument of yore, so the Tubb tunes work well for him. We hear far too little of his mandolin, but Sonny again proves his mastery of banjo spontaneity. Together for several years, their band of David Crow, Gene Wooten, Terry Smith, and Terry Eldredge supports Bobby with tight, tasteful playing.
A lovely and enjoyable CD with clear recording by Rich Adler at Studio 2000, The Ernest Tubb Song Folio – Volume 1 lacks the excitement and power of the Osborne Brothers’ finest work. But when one’s best ranks among the classic recordings of two genre of music, the bar is set pretty high.