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REVIEW: Oak Ridge Boys offer remarkable slice of Americana in Paramount concert

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UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:42 pm   ::  

CEDAR RAPIDS -- The Paramount Theatre is back in business.

A very big weekend for downtown Cedar Rapids, with three sold-out headliner performances, beginning with Harry Connick Jr. on Saturday night (11/3/12) and ending with two shows by one of the most enduring country acts of all time, The Oak Ridge Boys.

The 3 p.m. performance of the Boys from Nashville (and Branson) on Sunday, Nov. 4, was full of appreciative, devoted fans.

The theater itself is flat-out terrific, crisp and colorful. Congratulations to all involved with the re-invigoration of this attractive 1928 theater. It seems to be brand new, with a new car smell. The seats are comfortable, the leg room better. The work of the craftsmen throughout is to be applauded. What a pleasure for our community, as we continue to celebrate the recovery from the Floods of 2008.

The Oak Ridge Boys began their journey in Tennessee in 1943, originally known as Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers. Beginning in southern gospel music, they have moved on to mainstream country and crossover rock. At times they sound a lot like Jerry Lee Lewis, in numbers like "Bobbie Sue" and "I Like The Way You Walk."

Next year they will celebrate 40 years of musical success. As every country fan knows, particularly of the baby boomer generation (the audience was mostly over 60), the group includes Duane Allen (lead), Joe Bonsall (tenor), William Lee Golden (baritone) and Richard Sterban (bass). They are skillfull vocalists who sing superbly together. As Bonsall has said, "We love to sing together -- to harmonize together. It's what our lives are all about." Maybe Johnny Cash put it best: "There's magic in the four of you."

The band that travels with them also is terrific. I particularly admired the lead guitar work of Donny Carr and the fiddle/Hawaiian guitar of Rex Wiseman. Wiseman brings in old-fashioned country soul to the sound, welcome in the midst of the heavily amplified, "electronic nostalgia" that dominates so much country music these days.

The sentiments are strong, always out front, for the Oak Ridge Boys: patriotism, family, heartbreak, religion are the center of every performance. They transcend the "my girlfriend left me, my dog died and my truck won't start" stereotypical lyrics of most country music.

The lyrics of their songs are often unexpected. "I don't have to ... I get to." "Sacrifice ... for me." "Before I hit the Mississippi in a boat I have yet to buy." The audience listens closely, almost reverently, because they are moved to.

The room erupted when they launched into "Elvira." But my favorites are "Hey, it's good to be back home again/sometimes this old barn feels like a long lost friend"

(the finest close harmony of the performance). The gospel "Lead me to that rock that is higher than I/thou hast been a shelter for me" has a rock-bottom authenticity to it, and is quite moving.

The Boys are showmen, first and last, with 23 songs in 94 minutes, and a satisfied, happy audience heading out into the late afternoon. I must admit my favorite singer is the remarkable bass, Richard Sterban, he of "oom poppa mow mow" fame. He is a national treasure.

Indeed, the Oak Ridge Boys offer a remarkable slice of the popular culture of our time.

Please take note of the schedule this fall at the Paramount: it is strong, and inviting programming. Congratulations, once again, to all concerned!

 

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