The Oak Ridge Boys – It’s Only Natural

by Chuck Dauphin

Joining forces with restaurant chain Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the Oak Ridge Boys mix the old with the new on this special collection. Seven of these twelve cuts have been released in one form or the other by the Oaks previously.

The majority of the re-cuts were hits for the Oaks during the time period that Steve Sanders was in the group. Over the years, I have felt that some of these songs have been forgotten somewhat, and it’s good to hear them again. “True Heart” sounds as fresh and as vibrant as it did back in 1988, with Duane Allen reprising his lead vocal. He also does so on their monster hit from 1990, “No Matter How High.” Joe Bonsall takes the lead on the Cajun-styled “Gonna Take A Lot Of River,” and approaches it with his usual dose of high-energy, as well as “Beyond Those Years.”

Richard Sterban tackles 1991’s “Lucky Moon” in his too-cool fashion. The group also tries to re-create their ‘Mona Lisa,’ as per Cracker Barrel’s request, they recorded an updated version of “Elvira.” Though the instrumentation might be a little different, it’s still the same song that sent the MCA Records cloud logo spinning around so many turntables in 1981. William Lee Golden gets a chance to reprise a past hit, as well – “Louisiana Red Dirt Highway,” the biggest solo record he had during his time away from the group.

But, the Oaks are not the type of band that rests their laurels. They love the challenge of finding and recording new material, and they have found some keepers. The opener, “Whatcha Gonna Do,” while very much current, has such an Oaks feel that it could have been released right between “Lyin’ Again” and “Come On In.” Golden hammers one out of the ballpark with the wistful “Before I Die,” and “The Shade,” which Joe Nichols recorded a few years back for his excellent Revelation CD, is just a neat little laid back-tune that the Oaks have always excelled at.

There are a couple of more heavier numbers included on It’s Only Natural. “Wish You Could Have Been There” is a brilliant tune with one of Allen’s most poignant performances, and Joe sends off the album on an inspiring note with the moving “Sacrifice For Me.”

When these four sing together, there’s something magical that happens. It was that way in 1973, 1984, 1997, and it’s still that way today. It does indeed come natural!

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