The Oak Ridge Boys - 17th Avenue Revival
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17th Avenue Revival (Lightning Rod, 2018)

The Oak Ridge Boys

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

With a group history that spans over 50 years, gospel and country music mainstays The Oak Ridge Boys are at a place when they could conceivably rest on their laurels, release a few greatest hits records and coast the rest of the way through their careers, and fans would still be pleased. Yet, this quartet is not content to rest. Calling once again upon producer Dave Cobb, who helped to press new energy into the group's career in 2009 with "The Boys Are Back," The Oak Ridge Boys have delivered one of their most engaging releases in years.

The Oak Ridge Boys return to their gospel roots, albeit with a few twists and turns. Drawing from influences as diverse as traditional black gospel, southern gospel, doo wop and '50s rock, alongside ever present country vibes, "17th Avenue Revival" comes across as something both old and new, retro vibes combining with contemporary notes.

"Brand New Star (Up In Heaven Tonight)" kicks the nine-song set off strong, with a plucky bass line and a rousing call-and-response chorus that gets the toes tapping. The signature vocals are in fine form, and the recording feels live and raw, a rare commodity in music nowadays. That energy is quickly followed by the soulful "There Will Be Light," a track that recalls some of Elvis' inspirational numbers with its rolling piano line and heartfelt reminder of hope to come.

Joe Bonsall is like a kid in a candy store on the high energy "God's Got It," his familiar tenor notes soaring over against some rich Stratocaster fills and warm harmonies while their take on "I'd Rather Have Jesus" is tried and true, feeling like you've stepped into a Sunday evening hymn sing at the local Baptist church with its bright piano notes a gentle percussion, serving as a fine homage to the group's legacy.

Two strong highlights soon follow including "Walk In Jerusalem," a song drawing from both southern and black gospel influences with its rich bass lead, soulful harmonies and playful harmony. But it's "Pray To Jesus" that really steals the show, channeling '50a style rock with rollicking piano and great vocals alongside a great lyric as they sing: "So we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto/'Cause there ain't but two ways we can change tomorrow/And there ain't no genie and there ain't no bottle/So we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto." It's fun, festive, and faith filled - all qualities of The Oak Ridge Boys themselves.

Classic southern gospel vibes resonate throughout "Where He Leads Me I Will Follow," the rendition almost reminiscent of The Statesmen Quartet or a handful of other classics. It's smooth and simple, gentle accompaniment that frames the vocals and lets them shine while the cover of "If I Die" bristles with emotion and a touch of homespun honesty that grabs hold of the heartstrings. Saving one of the best for last, "Let It Shine On Me" bookends the collection with a sound that feels like a mash-up of The Oak Ridge Boys with the Blind Boys of Alabama. They deliver an infectious take on the song that builds in energy and enjoyment with repeated listens.

The Oak Ridge Boys have managed to both recapture the past while reinventing themselves for the present and future, a task not easily managed.

CDs by The Oak Ridge Boys

Down Home Christmas, 2019 17th Avenue Revival, 2018 Front Row Seats, 2006 Christmas Cookies, 2005

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