17th Avenue Revival looks back, looks ahead


The Oak Ridge Boys evoke the memory of an old-time quartet at Renfro Valley, Ky. in 2016.  Their latest album is gospel that touches the past but looks ahead at the same time.


I couldn’t help but notice the connection to the past when The Oak Ridge Boys released their latest album, 17th Avenue Revival, in March.

It was back in the summer of 1973 when I first heard the Oak Ridge Boys in person. I wasn’t even old enough to drive, but my older sister and I made our way to Lafayette High School in Lexington, Ky. for a Sunday afternoon with the Oaks. I remember wandering out into the foyer where Willie Wynn stood alone at the record table. I got one of those great deals quartets always had at their concerts: Three albums or tapes for 10 bucks.

My choices were eight-track tapes. Remember them? One of the three was one of the hottest gospel albums of the day, Street Gospel, which included the mega-hit King Jesus. It was cool, real cool.

And it was cool to meet “Little Willie” that day. I’d been introduced to the Oaks’ music earlier that year and could not believe some of those high notes he could hit on “Jesus is Coming Soon” or his smooth tenor on “After Calvary.”

But the next time I saw the Oaks in person, at Louisville’s Memorial Auditorium less than three months later, I saw someone new standing on the left side of the stage. Little Willie had left and Joe Bonsall joined Duane Allen, Bill Golden and Richard Sterban. Golden now goes by William Lee and looks A LOT different almost 45 years later, but the same lineup is still  going strong.

(A few years ago, when I was blessed to sit down with Bonsall for an interview, he told me that the night I first saw him was his second concert with the Oaks. He’d been in Columbus, Ohio the night before.)

Times are sure different today. You might find 8-tracks at a flea market or a yard sale. Now you can download to a smartphone and even those CD’s that I usually buy are considered old-fashioned.

Ironically, I got the “17th Avenue Revival” CD as a bundle of three, this time on Amazon. And yes, the bundle did cost more than 10 bucks but was worth every penny.

But the Oaks are as good as ever. Maybe even better. The “17th Avenue Revival” is a testament to that. Like “Street Gospel” and some of those other great albums of the early-to-mid1970s, the Oaks’ latest work is gospel with few boundaries. The song I see talked about the most is the hand-clapping, foot-stomping  “Brand New Star,” a new work that would fit right in at an all-night singing at the time the Oaks were at the top of the gospel charts more than 40 years ago.

My favorites, though, are some old classics, “I’d Rather Have Jesus” and “Where He Leads Me.”

As for the rest of the album, I’m not a professional critic. Like everyone else, there are some tunes that suit my fancy a bit more than others. But I do know greatness when I hear it. And what the Oaks have produced in their latest project is absolute greatness.

Every review and comment I have read about the latest CD has ranged from positive to raving. From this corner, it’s not so much about the music itself, even though it’s mighty good. It’s the message of Shining the Light.

You see, the Oaks are crisscrossing the country — I get to see them at Renfro Valley on June 2 for my 35th Oaks concert – in their Shine the Light Tour. And how we need the light of Jesus Christ today.

I am in the news business and can hardly stand watching the newscasts anymore. Too often, I get angry or depressed. I am certain I am not alone.

However, for over 40 years, the Oak Ridge Boys have been one of America’s most beloved singing groups because their songs are generally happy songs. I’ve been to 34 Oaks concerts (unless I have missed a few here or there) and I always come away with a smile on my face.

The latest CD is a connection to my past by taking gospel music even more into the future. Get it!!

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