With legendary country music producer James Stroud at the helm, the DUKES of Dixieland (trumpeter Kevin Clark, trombonist Ben Smith, clarinetist/saxophonist Ryan Burrage, pianist Scott Obenschain, bassist Alan Broome and drummer JJ Juliano) and the Grammy Award-winning Oak Ridge Boys (Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, Richard Sterban and William Lee Golden) went into the studio earlier this year, and history was made. When Country Meets Dixie (Sony/RED Distribution) was born and will be released on February 28. They recorded four songs together, including a remake of The Oak Ridge Boys’ platinum-selling hit single from 1981, “Elvira,” with an irresistibly funky, N’awlins second line groove fueling the proceedings. The Oak Ridge Boys, who started out as a gospel quartet in their native Tennessee, contribute their distinctive four-part vocal harmonies to a freewheeling Dixie-fied rendition of “Little Talk with Jesus” and a Professor Longhair-influenced rhumba-boogie interpretation of their 1982 hit single “Bobbie Sue,” along with an authentic N’awlins street beat take on the gospel country tune “Unclouded Day.”
When Country Meets Dixie is rounded out by stellar performances from two country music veterans and two up-and-comers on the Nashville scene. Wesley Probst, a deep-voiced singer-songwriter from Missouri who has been working in Music City since the ’70s, appears on the Tennessee Ernie Ford novelty number “Fatback Louisiana” and also belts out an upbeat rendition of Ernest Tubb’s “Nails in My Coffin.”
Oklahoma native Bobby John Henry, who started out as a country singer in the ’50s and now is a 73-year-old bread artisan in Nashville with his All-American Redneck Bread Factory, contributes a soulful performance on the mellow ballad “Back in New Orleans.” Callaway McCord, a 20-year-old firecracker who joined Vince Vance and the Valiants at age 12 and has been singing with soulman Sam Moore since she was 14 years old, kicks up the energy level a few notches on a rowdy, hard-driving medley of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya,” Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin'” and Rockin’ Sidney’s zydeco classic “Don’t Mess with My Toot Toot.” Lathan Moore, a new face in Nashville who grew up in a mining community in Ohio Valley, lends his appealing baritone voice to the anthemic “Are You from Dixie” (a tune originally written in 1915 and since covered by everyone from the Blue Sky Boys to Jerry Reed, Jimmy Dean and Grandpa Jones). Moore, who grew up singing in gospel groups in Ohio, also turns in a moving rendition of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” (which prominently features the DUKES’ ace clarinetist Ryan Burrage) and a tender reading of “I Can’t Fight the Moonlight.” Nashville session ace David Spires is also featured on pedal steel guitar throughout. The DUKES’ pianist Richard Scott Obenschain also contributes spirited vocals on the opener, “That’s What I Like About the South,” a tune composed in 1937 by Fats Waller’s writing partner Andy Razaf and popularized in the early ’40s by Phil Harris and His Orchestra and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.
Says Shoup of this meeting of the two musical worlds, “We’re introducing a new genre on this album. Nobody’s ever done it before, but I always felt like country music and Dixieland music go together. And it worked so well. To me, it’s like a perfect marriage.”
“Initially, we wanted to have this little get-together to see if it worked musically,” said Stroud, former head for Giant and Dreamworks Records, current CEO of R&J Records and producer of Tim McGraw, Toby Keith and Chris Young, among many others, in a news release. “We wanted to incorporate some of the sounds the DUKES brought from New Orleans and combine it with what the Oak Ridge Boys bring with their history and successes in gospel and country. The project wound up creating its own sound, its own brand. When Country Meets Dixie is the result of two great American art forms colliding. It’s the most unique thing that we may hear musically for a long time.”
For the DUKES of Dixieland, who have been active on the New Orleans scene and internationally since 1974, When Country Meets Dixie is a crowning achievement in their expansive discography and follows their successful collaboration with R&B singer Luther Kent on 2006’s New Orleans Mardi Gras and their Grammy nominated Gloryland with Moses Hogan’s New Orleans Gospel Choir in 2000.