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     Depending on how you count them and when you start counting, it could be argued that this is the Oak Ridge Boys 30th full length studio album. One would expect after all these years and all the albums, they would sound tired, if not washed up or overstaying their welcome. Their efforts on It’s Only Natural prove one thing; that they are far from washed up and they continue to challenge themselves musically. This album may possibly be the best of the groups long career, and that is saying a mouthful.
The production here is absolutely superb.  It would do this album no justice to give sweeping and general comments pertaining to every new song. Therefore, this review
can only be done by touching on each new song, in order to be done accurately.

     "What’cha Gonna Do" may be the best song ever recorded by the group. This song is loaded with hooks that will seriously have you singing along by the third chorus, if not the second. If this song were released in the group’s heyday, it may have outsold "Elvira". THAT is how good this song is.  "Before I Die" is a beautiful, thought-provoking song sung by William Lee Golden. Honestly, one of the best performances of his career. His vocals are dripping with emotion here and the listener is easily sucked in to the message of this song.  "The Shade" is another new song sung by Duane Allen. This song somehow seems to evoke peace upon the listener, as though you were laying in a hammock in the shade of a huge tree, sipping your favorite beverage, without a care in the world. This is yet another great song on this disc.  "Louisiana Red Dirt Highway" is a new song for The Oak Ridge Boys. However, it was originally recorded by William Lee Golden on his My Life's Work solo record. This new Oaks version is chock full of wonderful harmonies. I would venture to say this is how William Lee always envisioned this song sounding.  "Wish You Could Have Been There" is a new song sung by Duane Allen. This song tugs at the heart strings as you sit and reflect on times in your life when loved ones weren’t at certain events for whatever reason. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting choked up as you reminisce.  "Sacrifice…For Me" is the final song on the CD, and is worth the price of the CD all by itself. This song was written and is sung by Joe Bonsall. Joe sings about military and public servicemen not just fighting for us and protecting us, but the unfortunate times when they give all they can possibly give….their lives. This reviewer found himself wiping away tears as I counted the cost of freedom, and my heart swelled with appreciation for those who are man and woman enough to serve selflessly for me.

    The remaining songs on the disc are all previous Oak Ridge Boys hits, but all newly recorded here.  "True Heart", "Gonna Take A Lot Of River", "No Matter How High", "Elvira", "Beyond Those Years" and "Lucky Moon" are the classics that were chosen.  Five of those six were hits with Steve Sanders in the group, and four of those were sung by Steve.  All the leads now are performed by Duane, Joe or Richard.  All six songs are very re-worked and sound very fresh.  Acoustic guitars replace fiddles, and dated musical arrangements are replaced with modern, live-sounding performances.  Changes to note are an extended jam at the end of "True Heart", a nice acoustic guitar solo part at the end of "No Matter How High", acoustic guitar out front on "Gonna Take A Lot Of River", and the amazingly new, fresh and live sounding "Elvira".  If you didn't know it, you would never believe this song was recorded 30 years earlier.   

     One thing I would like to point out about this CD is something a lot of people may overlook, and it speaks to the absolute class of the Oak Ridge Boys. Many groups, when an original or prominent member leaves, and is replaced, will record new material of course. After a period of time when/if the original or prominent member returns, groups will often re-record the material recorded with the replacement member. Generally, the returning member will handle the vocal duties where the replacement member once was. In many cases, it appears that the group is attempting to erase the memory of that person, or pretend that they were never in the group/band. I don’t believe it was an accident that William Lee Golden did not perform any of the Steve Sanders lead vocal songs on this CD. It was pure class that drove the Oak Ridge Boys to use the members of the group who were with Singing Steve during those years, to sing his vocal parts on this CD. Kudos should be given to the Oak Ridge Boys for that, not to mention, listing Steve in the credits, thanking him.

     In closing, there is not a weak moment on this CD. As stated in the beginning, this may be the best album the Oak Ridge Boys have recorded in their long and illustrious career. They may not be the flavor of the month as far as radio goes, but that does not change the fact that this is an incredible CD and should be given its rightful place high atop the Oaks catalog.

Outstanding Cuts: What'cha Gonna Do, Before I Die, Elvira, Sacrifice...For Me
Cut Outs: none

                                              ---Edward Wille


    The Oak Ridge Boys teamed up with the fine folks at Cracker Barrel to produce an exclusive album with 5 brand new songs and a load of other favorites. While the 12-track album dropped a few months ago, there is no greater Mother's Day or Father's Day gift than "It's Only Natural" from the Oak Ridge Boys.

    The album begins with "What'cha Gonna Do," which has an upbeat, melodic sound that deserves to be a major country chart hit for the Oak Ridge Boys. "Before I Die" is another new song that has radio potential. The sincerity of the vocal performance is mesmerizing. "The Shade" has much of the same charm.

    However, the best new song on the album is "Wish You Could Have Been There." The song has cultural relevance and an uplifting chorus that is both memorable and heartwarming. The bluegrass infused "Sacrifice … For Me" brings the Oak Ridge Boys back to their country roots, and the story in song has a political message that will resonate to patriotic American country music fans.

    A re-recording of the classic Oak Ridge Boys hit "Elvira" is performed with a gospel-tinged fervency that is palpable. The classic "True Heart" showcases the group's melodic brilliance, and the hard-edged country blues track "Gonna Take A Lot of River" ups the fun quotient in a major way. Concert audiences love this track, and it helps this recorded album sparkle as well. Likewise, the classic Oak Ridge Boys vocal blend is front and center with "No Matter How High" and "Lucky Moon."

    "It's Only Natural" is a top-notch, creative country album from the veteran Oak Ridge Boys. Indeed, the boys prove that there's a lot of life left in the group, and the evidence presented here shows that the band could possibly find their way back to the top of the country chart with the right song. Yes, "It's Only Natural" might be a great gift, but you'll also want to head out to Cracker Barrel and grab a copy for yourself as well.




    Upon first listen of this recording, it was great to hear the guys doing some new material. What'cha Gonna Do and Before I Die are by far the best tracks on this. But the songs they originally did with Steve Sanders are a bit disappointing. It would have been nice to hear William Lee do Steve's part. This would have been a great substitute for a "What-Could-Have-Been" recording. I respect whatever reasons Golden did not sing on those songs, but the re-recordings with Joe, Duane or Richard taking Steve's part did not work for me.

                                                                                                               ---Irl Grundy