While working on their new album of classic country covers — Country Evolution, due September 18th — a cappella vocal quintet Home Free crossed paths with the Oak Ridge Boys, arguably the forebears of Home Free’s style of harmony-rich country singing. The Oaks’ Duane Allen hit it off with Tim Foust, the bass singer of the group, which won Season 4 of NBC’s vocal competition The Sing Off, and suggested the two acts collaborate.
It didn’t take long to settle on a song: the Oak Ridge Boys’ defining 1981 hit “Elvira,” which Home Free slotted alongside gems like “9 to 5,” “Friends in Low Places” and their own material on Country Evolution.
“We went in the studio and they showed us how they had it envisioned and where we might sing. We laid it out there, and then they said, ‘Let’s do a video.’ They built their career on videos and have a great following too. They’ve done a great job building what they do,” the Oaks’ Joe Bonsall tells Rolling Stone Country. He predicts the updated version of “Elvira” will go, in his words, “El-viral.”
“Once we got together as a group, there was a magic happening among the nine of us that just exploded,” concurs Allen, who advised Home Free on how to interpret such a beloved entry in the country canon. “I said, ‘We’ve already done it our way; I want you to cut it your way. Just kept the most recognizable parts very close. Everything else, I want your touches on.'”
The result is an “Elvira” that — unlike the slowed-down but mesmerizing version Little Big Town has been performing during their concerts — maintains the cadence of the Oaks’ recording but adds modern-day flourishes, thanks to Home Free’s beat-box singer Adam Rupp.
“Don’t stand too close to him — he spits a lot,” jokes Allen, who sees more than a strand of the Oaks in the group and is plotting a way for them to share the stage.
“Anybody who does harmony, you’ll see some of the Oak Ridge Boys in,” echoes Bonsall. “But they have that new twist to them, with the beat-box a cappella thing. You might think that it’d get a little old on the ear, but if you listen to their stuff, every song is different.”
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Says Allen: “They’re the only group that I’ve seen in years that could capture what we captured and carry it further.”
Currently on the road in Alaska, Home Free, who made their Grand Ole Opry debut in July, will launch their Don’t It Feel Good Tour next month. The Oak Ridge Boys, meanwhile, are entering the home stretch of what has been their busiest and most lauded year since the Eighties. This month, they were awarded the Bob Hope Award for Excellence in Entertainment by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and next week will head to Baltimore to receive an honor from the American Legion. On track to do 153 shows this year, the Oaks will take a brief break from touring in October to return to Nashville, where they will receive their most anticipated honor: induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.