Oak Ridge Boys Are Back With CD of Young and Old
William Lee Golden, the legendary baritone voice of the Oak Ridge Boys, describes the group's new album, 'The Boys Are Back,' as a "musical journey."
"There is such a variety of music on there," Golden tells The Boot. "From 'God's Gonna Ease My Troublin' Mind,' which we had to go to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. to get the original words because it was so old, to the brand-new Jamey Johnson song, 'Mama's Table,' we do a little bit of it all."
Variety is an understatement when describing the songs on the disc. The Oaks are the first country artist to cover Jack White's '7 Nation Army.' Bass singer Richard Sterban tackles John Lee Hooker's blues classic 'Boom Boom,' admitting he had the most fun he's ever had in the studio recording the tune. Golden lends his voice to Neil Young's 'Beautiful Bluebird.' Then there's the title track, written by Shooter Jennings, who is partially responsible for the journey the Oaks are taking on this new CD. He asked them to sing harmonies on 'Slow Train' from his album, 'The Wolf.' At that time, the Oaks met Jennings' producer, Dave Cobb, who ended up producing 'The Boys Are Back.'
When Cobb asked Jennings to write a song for the project, the young musician came up with the idea to layer the Oaks' vocals one by one, ending in a huge crescendo. He put down the melody and chorus for 'The Boys Are Back,' then stopped working on the song until Cobb called to tell him he had to have it right away. Jennings stayed up all night, writing and recording the demo. He sent it over, but it was several months before he heard the Oaks' final mix.
"I went into a trance-like state -- an alternative reality where the Oak Ridge Boys echoed back to me the crazy voices that haunt my creepy mind," Jennings explains of his reaction to hearing the band's final version of his song. "What a fantastic cut. I thought, 'Who wrote that song? Oh wait, I did!' I was so honored and still feel like I can't believe it. The vocal performances were far above what I ever expected. The Oak Ridge Boys are in a league of their own, cut from a cloth of far greater quality than mere mortals like myself."
Golden says when he heard the song, he immediately knew the young performer had spent a lot of time writing it.
"I could see his vision for the song," Golden explains. "He wrote it about us, specifically using names and situations from our past, and he was very thorough in his knowledge of the group ... We use it as our first song on the live show, and it gives us a very dramatic opening. Richard walks out first, then I come out, and Duane and then Joe. Each time somebody else walks out on stage, it's another charge for the fans in the audience. It's a great opening number."
Group member Duane Allen is also grateful to Jennings for the introduction to Cobb, whom he says had the same vision for the upcoming project that they did.
"What we did is we went to California to get a rock & roll producer who brought us back home to the very roots of our music, which is gospel mixed with country, blues and rock & roll," says Allen. "He was able to bring out the magic in our voices again."
Sterban agrees, adding, "I think David took us down some roads that we might not have traveled on our own. The music may be different but he did not try to change us, he challenged us. We are still the Oak Ridge Boys."
If the Oaks had any concern over recording some of the cover tunes, it went away once they started playing the songs live.
"In our stage show ,we have a selection of songs that goes from 'Live with Jesus,' which has a long instrumental jam at the end, followed by 'Bluebird,' followed by 'Hold Me Closely,' followed by '7 Nation Army,'" explains tenor Joe Bonsall. "The new music is getting great response. When we throw those songs at the audience, it's fun to watch their reaction, and the cool thing is they're loving it. We don't give it any introduction, we just go into them. We did '7 Nation Army' in Minnesota a few weeks ago, and we got a standing ovation. The younger kids in audience were freaking out."
The Oaks also recorded some great country gems on the new project, including Johnson's 'Mama's Table.' Their meeting with the acclaimed singer/songwriter was one of their favorite experiences while recording the album.
"I think one of the coolest things that happened was the day Jamey Johnson came by the studio," Sterban explains. "David told us he had asked Jamey to come by and play us some songs. At the time, I didn't know who Jamey was. We started talking to him and realized the songs he had written. And then he played us 'Mama's Table,' and we all thought it was a cool song. Jamey actually put down a track himself on 'Mama's Table,' so it's possible we could put something out later with him on it. It's a classic country song if you ask me."
"The first time I heard the Oak Ridge Boys sing 'Mama's Table' I knew I didn't have anything else to prove," says Johnson, returning the compliment. "These guys are legends, and they just cut my song. I love the conversation in the last verse. And William Lee even threw in a free beard seminar!"
There's no doubt that the Oaks are ecstatic about the release of the new album. Sterban sums it up when he says, "It's been a long time since the four of us have been excited like this. It's different and unique. David has allowed us to travel down different roads at this stage of our career. We're anxious to get this thing out there and see how it will be received by our fans and country and gospel fans in general. I think the album will give us a chance to broaden our audience, which is something every artist would like to have happen."
'The Boys Are Back' is in stores this week.