Since hitting the top ten for the first time in 1977 with "Y'all Come Back Saloon," the Oak Ridge Boys have carved out one of the most successful careers of all time. At the same time, they have never forgotten their Gospel roots. During their years with MCA, they often included Inspirational-tinged material such as "Dig A Little Deeper In The Well" and "Don't Give Up" in their albums and the past decade and a half has seen several Gospel projects from the Oaks, as well.
Their forthcoming project, "Back Home Again" (out May 22), is probably the most unique such project from the quartet. It's a mixture of country classics, new material, and Gospel songs that take them back -- many years.
"I've heard the new Gospel record explained in a lot of different ways," explained lead singer Duane Allen. "It's kind of a throwback for us, at least on most of the songs. There's one brand new song on the album, and there are some songs there that you might recognize by title as being more contemporary, like 'Coat Of Many Colors,' or 'Back Home Again.' Then, there's 'Why Me Lord,' which we have cut before. There's one new song on the disc called 'I Get To,' which is a very fresh song that could be played anywhere."
"Back Home Again" was produced by Ben Issacs, and the group's tenor singer, Joe Bonsall admits that he didn't know how things were going to go early on in the album making process.
"Actually, I don't know that we had a lot of direction going into our first production meeting. I know Ben wanted to hear me sing 'Coat Of Many Colors' and William Lee Golden to sing 'Hey, It's Good To Be Back Home Again,' and he wanted to hear Richard Sterban sing 'Why Me Lord.' I thought this was going to be a classic kind of country album, at least at the beginning."
Bonsall tells us that at the second production meeting with Ben, he started pulling out older Gospel songs, and the album tilted in that direction. "I'm really proud of it," he says. "I think we all are."
Allen said once the decision to go back and feature a lot of the old-time Gospel standards was made, the energy level picked up.
"It became an Oak Ridge Boys project where each of us started suggesting songs. Joe brought in 'Standing In The Need Of Prayer.' It was a Bluegrass version of that that was so fast I thought I was going to have to get me a new set of teeth," he jokes.
At the end of the day, the Oaks have an album that they are very excited about, and Bonsall feels the songs take them back. "We went back to the days when we were kids, listening to the Statesmen in our rooms doing all those songs. I still wasn't sure that it was all going to fit together, but somehow it did."
Allen was glad for the change in direction, because at this point in the Oaks' career, just recording a Gospel album to do so didn't really have a purpose. "If you don't have a real reason for doing something, you're pretty much spinning your wheels because there's not going to be any passion in it. But, when we got into these old songs, that passion that attracted us to Gospel Music was rekindled. I think the people will pick up on it."