A few definitions for the word revival on Dictionary.com are: 1. Restoration of life 2. A new production of an old play, and 3. An awakening. All of these word fit the latest release by the legendary Oak Ridge Boys, entitled “17th Avenue Revival” (Lightning Rod Records).
Coming off of their 2016 “Celebrate Christmas” CD (which a review can be found here in the archives), and their first Live CD in 2014 (“Boys Night Out”), the band here records a raw, non produced effort that is underrated with today’s music releases, which has massive overdubs and effects on the instruments and vocals. This recording, according to the press interviews some of the band members have put out in promoting this project, has a live feel to it, where the members just stand around the same microphone and sing just like they were in a church setting, not in separate rooms using different microphones.
The CD is produced by Dave Cobb, who worked with the group on 2009’s “The Boys Are Back.” Cobb takes a different approach on the normal Gospel feel to what the band is normally used to putting out in the genre, using songwriters such as Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, and the duo of Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, who worked with the great Kacey Musgraves.
The opening song, the first single, called “Brand New Star,” has an R&B feel to the song, not a straight up Gospel tone, with William Lee Golden on the main vocals. The song then runs into a slow ballad with the soulful Duane Allen singing “There Will Be Light,” which is reminiscent of Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight” in its mood and structure.
The Oaks each take turns sharing the lead vocals on the songs , with Richard Sterban singing “Walk in Jerusalem,” and Joe Bonsall singing lead on the songs “God’s Got It” and “Pray to Jesus.” The group shows their vocal harmonies on the choruses on most of the songs that show that the band still has the range that they have been known for.
The song “Pray to Jesus” has a humorous tone, as Bonsall sings the main vocals, which talks about how the character in the song use to complain about how their parents would talk about life and politics and now the narrator does the same at his older age. The narrator says how he goes to church and then heads off to the local mini mart to play the Powerball lottery. The song has a rockabilly rhythm to it, and with the humorous lyrics, makes it a unique choice to put on a Gospel CD, but it is one of the highlights of the collection. This song shows how the group’s willingness to stretch outside of the normal Gospel comfort zone from their past recordings.
The song “If I Die” (co-written by Vince Gill), is a slow ballad with Golden singing again, but the drums make this song, even though it is softly heard in the background. Maybe being a former drummer, this reviewer can recognize this, but Chris Powell’s playing on this song is different from the standard beat of gospel songs, using the normal beat with some soft fills in between to make the song quite full in the background for the ballad.
Just like the “Celebrate Christmas” CD, the group leaves one of the best songs for the very end. This time it is the song “Let It Shine On Me,” which has Allen starting off the song slow with just him and a Wurlitzer (played by Mike Webb), and then builds. Allen has proven in his last several CDs, along with singing live (the same goes with all the members), that he still can hit the notes at his age, where most artists half his age have lost their sound either live or on recordings (in the Country genre maybe Dwight Yoakam is the only other artist that can still hit their notes over the age of 50, and on the Rock side, Sammy Hagar, Barry Manilow, Huey Lewis, and Alice Cooper. Not a bad group to be in for the Oaks). Once this song kicks in, the electric guitar playing by Dave Cobb has a Reggae feel starting off and then, like a train starting to slowly build momentum, changes to a full out Southern Gospel feel. When hearing this song, the scene in the movie “The Blues Brothers” comes to mind, when they are in the church by James Brown- the song kicks into that kind of full on Gospel church party.
Overall the length of the songs, are short, with the longest song just over 4 minutes, and the shortest is around 2 minutes. The overall run time of the CD is 28 minutes. This is refreshingly short for a CD, and there is no unneeded fillings (song- wise or solo-wise) on here. One of the great things about this recording is that once the listener is getting the feel of the music, it’s already starting back to Track 1. The Oaks leave the listener wanting more with its short length, which is always a good thing in their case.
The title 17th Avenue Revival refers to the studio where the group recorded the release, which has a strong history of musicians. However, looking at the definitions of revival again, it’s clear that the Oaks show a new life in these Gospel songs that proves a new production of the something old, and definitively brings an awakening and respect for the musicianship, artistic approach, and just plain old listening fun to a CD that should not be mislabeled as just another Gospel Record.
17th Avenue Revival is available from Lightning Rod Records and is out now.
Track Listing: 1. Brand New Star 2. There Will Be Light 3. God’s Got It 4. I’d Rather Have Jesus 5. Walk In Jerusalem 6. Where He Leads Me I Will Follow 7. Pray To Jesus 8. If I Die 9. Let It Shine On Me
The Oak Ridge Boys are: Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden, and Richard Sterban.
For information about the Oak Ridge Boys, go to : http://www.oakridgeboys.com