If it sounds, both to ear and brain, like a no-brainer—country two-beat infused into Dixieland spontaneous jubilation—well friends and neighbors, it’s a sandwich served fresh and worth salivating over. The Dukes do their thing, the Oak Ridge Boys do their thing on top of that. Several carefully selected guest singers drop in to take the lead while the Boys take an inspirational background- vocal back seat, and the whole thing’s fit for a swingin’ party with shined-up floors where ten-gallons swap lines with fedoras.
Nobody droops at a dance, so the Dixielanders don’t drop their determination. Ben Smith’s big-lunged trombone, and Ryan Burrage’s clarinet, especially, sound a clarion call, even on “Closer Walk with Thee.” Country producer James Stroud keeps things bell-clear, and maybe it’s all the 78s I’ve gone through recently, but I wished for a bit more grit in the mix.
Thumbs-up to the younger, lesser-known singers, bright and in some cases, slightly nervous, like it’s their turn at the small-town, big-prize talent show. Lathan Moore sounds much older than what I’m assuming from photos is his twentysomething years, but more than anything he sounds relieved, asking “Are You from Dixie?” while hoping for a fellow traveler a long way from home. Bobby John Henry, eager to be “Back in New Orleans,” breathes relief and longing in the same exhalation.
And yes, oddly enough for a party, hints of regret and missed opportunities creep in. Richard Scott Obenschain’s “That’s What I Like About the South” withholds all critiques of Dixie, but throws in a broken heart near the finale. The Boys’ recasting of “Bobby Sue” complete with Richard Sterban’s rubber-bubbling bass at the bottom, embraces teen marriage, ignoring the painful repenting-at-leisure such unions often produce.
Callaway McCord, it’s true, belts forth a strident, brassy and confident medley of “Jambalaya/I’m Walkin’/ Toot Toot,” reminding the listener that Dixie/Country is not confluence but a step back upriver to where those waters meet originally. Want cheer? Keep to the snappy beat and the testifying gospel. Save those lyrics for later.