Even though the Oak Ridge Boys were one of my favorite musical acts as a kid (I got my first drum set one Christmas, along with the Oaks’ Greatest Hits record around 1980) , I never got to see the band live until 1999; I didn’t attend my first concert until 1991 (which was Sammy Hagar’s Van Halen). The group sang many times, at nearby Ponderosa Park in Salem, Ohio, which was not far from where I live in Columbiana. Those that have read Joe Bonsall’s On The Road With The Oak Ridge Boys book (a review can be found here in the archives), he mentions several times the defunct venue. At one time, there was an attempt to restart the outdoor park, which I even bought tickets to see the Oaks, but the managers closed up before there were any major concerts held.
On September 1, 1999, I finally got the chance to see the Oaks live at the Canfield Fair, in nearby Canfield, Ohio, where they were promoting their new release Voices, which was released that June. Even though I am not a fan of the layout of concerts at the fair and it’s policies (you have to pay a $10 price at the entrance on top of your ticket price to the show, and you sit in bleacher seats which are so far removed from the track stage, it was similar to my early concert days of sitting in the lawn areas at pavilions where the acts looked like ants from the far distance), I remember being in awe of how great the group sounded vocally, and what a show they put on. I have seen a two other shows at the fair (Alabama, and Journey with Peter Frampton), and I will say that The Oaks’ were still the best concert I attended there.
The Voices release, which was the only record the band recorded with Platinum Entertainment did not do much on the charts at the time it was put out, but after 20 years gone by, I figured to visit the recording in celebration of it’s anniversary.
The liner notes states that the goal of the album was to mix musicians from Muscle Shoals and combine their talents with the Nashville songwriters. The album is dedicated to all of the songwriters, and the group salutes their successes to the great songs and songwriters that helped them along the way. The group also used producer Ron Chancey, who was in control of many of the group’s top albums in the 1970s and 1980s.
The album’s first single, “Baby When Your Heart Breaks Down,” a song written by Kix Brooks (of Brooks and Dunn fame) leads off the album with a catchy and wordy chorus, which made me wonder how the Oaks could sing the song while trying to get their breath when they performed it live at the fair show. It surprised me that this song did not break into the country charts (Brooks even used it as his first single in 1983 to no major fanfare). Although many country fans in 1999 were listening to the acts that had a more pop feel, this song should’ve done moderately well- the band made the media rounds on TNN and other spots promoting the song. This is the song that brings back memories of the release.
The CD is filled with several good songs that are just plain fun to listen to, including “Deep In Louisiana,” and “What’ll I Do,” both challenges the listener NOT to hit the repeat button on the player and listen many times. “What’ll I Do” was co-written by Skip Ewing, who was known for his work with Bryan White’s debut album among others, which also adds a gospel flavor to the song to blues groove.
Speaking of grooves, ” The Perfect Love” , sung by Joe Bonsall, combines the rhythm of an reggae/island mix, where the listener can find similarities to Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.” This is one of the songs that drummer Roger Hawkins shines on (along with “Ain’t No Short Way Home”). Hawkins has played on many legendary songs in music history. Combining the great harmonies of the Oaks along with these icons in music, spotlights on this track.
William Lee Golden , who is a very underrated singer and has gained my respect on his abilities rediscovering the groups rarer tracks on albums, sings two songs on Voices; “Old Hearts” and ” Lady My Love,” both are ballads. The lyrics on “Old Hearts” seem to run together, along with breaking the traditional rhyming in song lyrics. “Lady My Love” has a more blues/southern gospel style to it, which is perfect for Golden’s voice. “Lady My Love” is the better of the two songs for my tastes, which salutes the love of a complexities of a woman with many roles.
Richard Sterban takes the lead vocals on the ballad “If All I Had Left, ” a song that has a more adult contemporary feel to it, with blue guitar fills throughout the song. Very few acts can end an album on a ballad and make it work, and the Oaks are one of the acts that can do it. The song placement works here. It’s a short run time on the song, so the song doesn’t have any fillers on it, which gives it more appeal.
When re-visiting albums for reviews (I have written many retro reviews for the hard rock site Sleazeroxx, and on this page, titled “Childhood Classics”) , I like to try and find a hidden gem that I may not have listened to when normally playing the CD, or if I haven’t listened to the CD for some time. On here, the gem is “Ain’t No Short Way Home.” The guitar work leads off the song with a chugging groove sung by Duane Allen, with the rest of the band chiming in with their powerful harmonies. Even though this song hit the country charts at #71, this song would be a great addition to the band’s current live sets. The Oaks have a awesome band live that can bring power and intensity when needed , and this song would be one that would rock out. The guitar solo, along with the drumming, carries the song, along with Sterban’s bass vocals helping bring the song to another level. Although all of the Oaks have their signature style of vocals, I challenge anyone to name a singer with a smoother voice than Allen; he’s up there with Barry Manilow, Frank Sinatra, and Michael Bublè in my picks of great vocalists.
For an album released 20 years ago, Voices still holds up well, without sounding dated with the times. The release has a mix of everything: blues, gospel, and country, along with wonderful musicians and the staple harmonies that the group are known for. Although a few of the songs are weak, seven out of the eleven songs works for me. Although Bonsall is only on one track on this release, which is a downer for me (I’d rather hear another one from him instead of “New Orleans” ) , the CD is a surprise of how good it is considering the lack of response it got. The goal of the album was achieved for the most part, and let’s be honest, it’s hard for a group to have an album with every song a smash (although The Oaks achieved that with 1981’s Fancy Free in my opinion). Voices is one that needs to be re-discovered if fans missed out on it, because it has some solid performances on here.
- Baby When Your Heart Breaks Down 2. Where The Sun Always Shines 3.Deep in Louisiana 4. Lady My Love 5. What’ll I Do 6. New Orleans 7, Perfect Love
- I’d Still Be Waiting 9. Old Hearts 10. Ain’t No Short Way Home 11. If All I Had Left