Oak Ridge Boys get "Back" to basics

Fri May 22, 2009 7:37pm EDT

Oak Ridge Boys, (L-R) Richard Sterban, Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, and William Lee Golden arrive at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas April 5, 2009. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Oak Ridge Boys, (L-R) Richard Sterban, Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, and William Lee Golden arrive at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas April 5, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Steve Marcus

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NASHVILLE (Billboard) - The first single from the Oak Ridge Boys' new album might at first glance seem a surprising choice for the country group: a cover of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."

But this is a band that has been reinventing itself for decades. For "The Boys Are Back," which was released May 19 on Spring Hill Music Group, the group recruited Los Angeles-based producer David Cobb, taking a creative detour reminiscent of Johnny Cash's groundbreaking collaboration with Rick Rubin.

The original Oaks started as a gospel group in 1945. The current lineup began to take shape when William Lee Golden joined in 1965. He was followed by Duane Allen in 1966, Richard Sterban in 1972 and Joe Bonsall in 1973.

Looking to expand its audience, the band moved from gospel to country music in 1977 with "Y'All Come Back Saloon." This sparked a successful career with such hits as "Elvira" and "Bobbie Sue" crossing onto the pop charts as well. Since 1977, they've recorded nearly 40 albums.

In 2001, the Oaks signed with Spring Hill and returned to their roots, recording gospel albums in addition to country projects. Last month the label released a CD and DVD of "The Best of the Oak Ridge Boys: A Gospel Journey," which debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Top Music Video Sales chart.

Allen says the goal for "The Boys Are Back" was to record an edgy, more organic album. "We just literally re-created ourselves without all the bells and whistles," he says. "I think we probably captured more of our soul in an honest way."

They also impressed their producer with their willingness to experiment. Cobb says he suggested the White Stripes cover. "I'm a huge fan of Jack White, and I thought it would be a real cool thing. Nobody would expect them to do that song," says Cobb, who has produced records for Waylon Jennings, Brooke White, the Strays and Rock-n-Roll Soldiers.

"They never had any objections," he says of the Oak Ridge Boys. "They were always open to everything. That's why they've been around as long as they have -- they are professionals, and they're willing to go anywhere."

To expose their music to a younger audience, the Oaks performed at this year's South by Southwest and started communicating with fans through Twitter, MySpace and Facebook. The single was sent to 350 college stations and is being offered as a ringtone through the band's MySpace page.

But don't think they've forgotten their old-school country and gospel fans: They've also scheduled a visit to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's Fox show.

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)

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