Bobby and Sonny Osborne, The Osborne Brothers, were exemplars of the "progressive" bluegrass scene of the 1960s and '70s, pioneering the use of drums, amplified instruments and country-grass crossovers such as the use of steel guitars in a bluegrass context. Before forming their own band in 1956, the Osbornes worked in Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys and Jimmy Martin's band... The Osbornes plugged away as a second-tier bluegrass act until signing with Decca Records in the early '60s, where they scored a massive hit with their dynamic version of "Rocky Top," which showcased the duo's precision timing, tight vocal harmonies and forceful, propulsive rhythmic approach. The Osbornes went on to broaden their sound, and became known as one of the most innovative mainstream bluegrass bands. Chart success slipped away, though, and the brothers were dropped by Decca after it became MCA, moving on to record for independent labels thereafter. Here's a quick look at their work...
This page looks at their original albums; you can browse their best-of collections as well...
The Osborne Brothers "Country Pickin' And Hillside Singin' " (MGM, 1959) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Bluegrass Music By The Osbornes" (MGM, 1962)
The Osborne Brothers "Bluegrass Instrumentals" (MGM, 1962) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Cuttin' Grass" (MGM, 1963) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Voices In Bluegrass" (Decca, 1965) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Up This Hill And Down" (Decca, 1966) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Modern Sounds Of Bluegrass Music" (Decca, 1967) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Yesterday, Today And The Osborne Brothers" (Decca, 1968) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Favorite Hymns" (Decca, 1969) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Up To Date And Down To Earth" (Decca, 1969) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Ru-Be-Eee" (Decca, 1970)
The Osborne Brothers "The Osborne Brothers" (Decca, 1971) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Country Roads" (Decca, 1971) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Bobby And Sonny" (Decca, 1972)
The Osborne Brothers "Midnight Flyer" (MCA, 1973) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Fastest Grass Alive" (MCA, 1974) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Pickin' Grass And Singin' Country" (MCA, 1975) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Number One" (CMH, 1976) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "From Rocky Top To Muddy Bottom" (CMH, 1977)
Originally a double LP, this collection showcases the songs of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant (who wrote the Osborne's biggest hit, "Rocky Top," among other great early-era rock'n'roll classics...)
The Osborne Brothers "Bluegrass Collection" (CMH, 1978)
(Produced by Sonny Osborne)
Originally a double LP set, this looks like a "best-of" collection, but it's actually a nice set of super-traditionalist truegrass that's every bit as vigorous today as it was back when it came out... Through whatever perverse machinations of the MCA-Universal-Vivendi empire, for decades their classic Decca recordings were only available in the monolithic Bear Family imports, so these tracks were the most accessible representation of their work. Fortunately, even though some of the original spark has dimmed, they were still pretty darn good when this albumcame out, and it's pretty representative of their work on CMH in the '70s and '80s. Blaine Sprouse and Kenny Baker add some tasty fiddle licks, with Benny Birchfield filling out the duet vocals and Ray Edenton adding some nice guitar licks. Good stuff, and even if it ain't their best, it's pretty dang close.
The Osborne Brothers "Bluegrass Concerto" (CMH, 1979) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers & Mac Wiseman "The Essential Bluegrass Album" (CMH, 1979)
The Osborne Brothers "I Can Hear Kentucky Calling Me" (CMH, 1980) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Greatest Bluegrass Hits" (CMH, 1982)
The Osborne Brothers "Some Things I Want To Sing About" (Sugarhill, 1984)
The Osborne Brothers "Once More, v.1" (Sugar Hill, 1986)
The Osborne Brothers "Once More, v.2" (Sugar Hill, 1987)
The Osborne Brothers "Singing, Shouting Praises" (Sugar Hill, 1988) (LP)
The Osborne Brothers "Hillbilly Fever" (CMH, 1991)
The Osborne Brothers "When Roses Bloom In Dixieland" (Pinecastle, 1994)
The Osborne Brothers "The Ernest Tubb Song Folio" (Pinecastle, 1995)
The Osborne Brothers "Class Of '96" (Pinecastle, 1996)
Long in the tooth, but still havin' fun, Bobby and Sonny preside over an easygoing album, backed up by a quartet of young'uns that included guitarist Terry Eldredge and dobro whiz Gene Wooton... Well, ya gotta say this about the Osbornes: they sure can spot talent!
The Osborne Brothers "Hyden" (Pinecastle, 1998)
Named after their birthplace of Hyden, Kentucky, this album is the first of a projected four-disc series tracing the history of the the Osborne Brothers and their musical style. The series combines new recordings with archival material, and is certainly worth checking out if you are a fan.
The Osborne Brothers "Dayton To Knoxville" (Pinecastle, 2000)
The second volume of a four-part collection looking back at the decades-long career of these pop-grass powerhouses. Unless my ears deceive me, other than a couple of tracks at the end of the album, these are actually recent re-recordings of songs originally recorded between 1949-54, but not songs that are actually from that vintage. Okay, but not great.
The Osborne Brothers "Detroit To Wheeling" (Pinecastle, 2003)
The third in a nostalgic series retracing the Osborne's musical roots. This disc has some sweet, solid melodic numbers, a touch of gospel, and a couple of time-worn archival recordings that take us back to theie early '50s concert days. Livelier and more engaging than the first two albums in this series... worth checking out!
The Osborne Brothers "Live In Germany" (Pinecastle, 2007)
The Osborne Brothers "Nashville" (Pinecastle, 2014)
(Produced by Owen Bradley & Sonny Osborne)
The fourth in a series of archival albums tracing the career of the Osborne Brothers bluegrass duo -- this disc includes two separate sessions, a country-colored set from 1975 that was helmed by country producer Owen Bradley, and one tracks from twenty years later in 1995 that features a smaller, more compact bluegrass band. The country session includes studio pros such as Ray Edenton, Hargus Robbins, Leon Rhodes and Hal Rugg, beefing up the 'grassy twang of the Orbornes, who are also joined by fiddler Vassar Clements... It's a nice contrast between an era when bluegrass was pretty much outside the Nashville system to the current day, when top-flight pickers routinely spice up mainstream singles in the Country Top 40. The Osbornes were one of the few traditional bluegrass acts successful enough to bridge that gap, and they sound as comfortable with the old-school Nashville cats as they do with the slick modern pickers. Nice stuff!
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