The Oak Ridge Boys

The Boys Are Back

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Never the hippest of country groups, the Oak Ridge Boys do their damnedest to give themselves some kind of an edge on their 2009 comeback The Boys Are Back. Technically, the Boys never went away, they just started singing gospel, disappearing from the major-label secular country scene sometime after 1992. They make up for the long wait between records by overcompensating greatly, hiring Shooter Jennings to write the repetitive chant of the title track, singing Neil Young's "Beautiful Bluebird," and, most bizarrely, covering the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," transposing the ominous thudding riff to voice and piano. This stab at coolness -- an attempt to replicate Johnny Cash singing Nine Inch Nails -- misses the mark by a mile because the Boys show little understanding of what makes the song, and more distressingly, what makes the group tick, either. This isn't the only grand misfire on The Boys Are Back -- the group fumble through John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom" where Richard Sterban's saucy delivery sounds distressingly like a randy Mr. Ed -- and tellingly, whenever the group stumble it's when they try too hard to get loose and funky, because that's not really who the Oak Ridge Boys are. They're a friendly, charmingly cornball country group, sounding best not when they're attempting to swagger, but when they're singing ambling novelties or ballads. There's enough of that here to make The Boys Are Back a fitfully entertaining comeback...but it's just enough to make it clear there should have been more of this kind of sweetly silly stuff, not less.

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