The Oak Ridge Boys were riding high during the 1980’s due largely to their mega-hit “Elvira,” but this excellent quartet, whom I had played many years before when they were a Southern Gospel group and I was a young DJ, have been away for a while. Well, they are back, and their latest album is the best one they have ever - I repeat, ever, recorded.
The title track, “The Boys Are Back,” was written for them by Shooter Jennings, and is a much updated Oaks sound. Halfway into the song I could feel a huge smile forming on my face. This was going to be a good one.
Producer David Cobb brings out the best in these harmonizing country masters. The second track, “Hold Me Closely” is more than a little reminiscent of the old Muscle Shoals soul sound I love so very much. It’s a trend that continues with “Hold You in My Arms,” another r&b tinged ballad.
The Oaks rock Jack White’s “Seven Nation Army,” and there’s a beautiful song about family called “Mama’s Table.” No kidding, these guys sound as good as ever, and when the bass singer takes off on John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” the party is one for sure.
Neil Young’s “Beautiful Bluebird” is given the full Oak Ridge Boys harmony treatment to stellar effect, and the guys knock it out of the park with the old spiritual “God’s Gonna Ease My Troublin’ Mind.” Look out Americana charts, I see a hit a comin.’
The set closed with “Live with Jesus,” bringing the guys full circle to their original gospel roots. Man oh man, it is a heartfelt tune of hope in the eye of the storm, a wonderful song to close out one amazing comeback album. It’s great to have The Oaks back again, and sounding as good, if not better, than ever.
-Michael Buffalo Smith