There have been many milestones in the career of Diamond Rio. In 1991, the band made history with "Meet in the Middle" climbing to the top of the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart (now called Hot Country Songs), the first time a group did so with their debut single. They have won a six awards for Vocal Group of the Year from the ACM and the CMA. In 1998, they became members of the Grand Ole Opry and have experienced success with their studio albums, compilations, a Christmas album, as well as a Gospel release, with 2009's Grammy-winning The Reason.
However, one of the most glaring omissions from their Gold and Platinum resume is a live album, capturing the energy and essence of a Diamond Rio live performance. That changes this week with the release of Diamond Rio Live, a CD/DVD set. Lead singer Marty Roe tells Billboard that the concert experience is part of what has set the group apart from the pack.
"It's hard to believe that after 25 years together, we haven't done a live project, because in all reality, that's a big part of our identity," he says. "We have always taken such great pride in our live show sounding so much like our records. That's been our hope, anyway, and that's what has always motivated me to be in this business -- that immediate response of being on stage and the live reaction of the crowd."
Guitarist Jimmy Olander says he is particularly stoked about releasing the project given his affinity for past live albums. "Being a country and bluegrass fan, I've always loved live records. I remember Jerry Reed's live album at the Exit/In being killer, and the J.D. Crowe live album from Japan when Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice were in the band. You get a treatment of what it's like when they are on the road -- sometimes things are a little bit hotter, and the tempo is a little faster. Maybe it's not as polished as the studio records. I think it's sometimes a little more real."
The release coincides with the group's 25th anniversary of achieving their record deal with Tim DuBois and Arista Records. "It seems like it was only yesterday, but then again, it seems like this is the only thing I've ever done in my whole life. It's hard to remember being in grade school, but I remember being a struggling musician in the Tennessee River Boys [the group's name before Diamond Rio] and everything we've done. I've actually been involved in this band for 30 years. It's been a great ride."
In the era of big hair and rhinestones from which they came bursting into the scene in 1991, what does Olander see when he views the group's first video for "Meet in the Middle?" "I'm getting to a stage in my career that the stuff I did early on in my career seems a little more vivid now than the stuff I did last week. I see these guys in these fantastic coiffed mullets and I remember the idealism that we had -- 'We're going to do this. We're going to reinvent that,' and all that stuff. I'd do the same all over again."
With well over 30 chart-singles to choose from, coming up with a set list for a live album is a little bit of a challenge. Roe says that's how some of the songs are included as part of medleys on the album. "Obviously, if it's a No. 1 single, there's a pretty good chance that we are going to do the whole thing. But even then, we've had enough that it just doesn't work out that way. Our whole goal is to be able to do as many of our songs as we possibly could. When we started having to leave some songs out, we would get response from many of the fans that they didn't like that and that they missed hearing certain songs. I think that was the initial thing that made us put a few hit medleys together on the project. What a great problem to have."