Album Review: The Oak Ridge Boys’ ‘Celebrate Christmas’

There’s something about the holidays season that makes you want to draw closer to family and friends. For any Country Music fan that has any time or heart invested into the format, The Oak Ridge Boys qualify as such. Since breaking into the genre with 1977’s “Ya’ll Come Back Saloon,” no Country act has left such an imprint on holiday music, with maybe the exception being Kenny Rogers. (And, actually – one could make the argument for the Oaks as this is their seventh holiday album since 1983’s Christmas was released. Rogers’ 2015 release Once Again It’s Christmas was only his sixth Yuletide platter.)

So, with that amount of Christmas music from the Oaks out there, what, you might ask, makes this different? Well, I don’t really have a good answer for that, other than to say that I think you could take any track from either of the Christmas albums the Oaks have released over the years – save 1995’s Country Christmas Eve – recorded during the Steve Sanders era, and you would be hard pressed to tell which cut is from what album.

In saying that, there lies the ultimate compliment about The Oak Ridge Boys. They don’t – and have never tried – to reinvent the wheel. You know you’re going to get harmony and heart – combined with energy. The songs on this album all fit somewhere within those parameters. Duane Allen’s voice echoes with as much warmth as ever on “That’s Christmas To Me” and “Rest In You Tonight,” Richard Sterban lowers that booming bass on the standard “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” as well as “Blue Christmas,” a performance that you know Elvis Presley was not too far from memory or mind. William Lee Golden sounds as timeless as ever on cuts such as “Away In A Manger” and “There’s Nothing Between Us (But Love Anymore),” and then….there’s Joe Bonsall. “Ban-Joey,” as he is sometimes known, shows that energy full blast on “Santa Claus Is Real,” and turns reverent on the spiritually-filling “Come To The Manger.”

But, even after recording together all these years, you can teach an old dog a new trick or two. The Oaks close this record with “The Hallelujah Chorus.” It is one of the most unique pieces of music the quartet has ever recorded, and they do some things vocally on the cut that I have never heard them do. They had to stretch to make this one turn out right, and they did that….and then some. But, then again, one shouldn’t be surprised. The Oak Ridge Boys have always gone the extra mile, and Celebrate Christmas is no exception!