ALTHOUGH the Oak Ridge Boys and Exile approach country music from different angles on their new albums, the results are much the same: utterly predictable.
The Oak Ridge Boys employ gospel quartet harmonies almost as often as they exploit inspirational themes and vaguely familiar R&B formulas. Exile, on the other hand, first made a name for itself as a pop group, and it's more likely to take a more contemporary and funkier route. With a busload of hits and awards to their credit, you wouldn't expect either band to change now, would you?
Well, they haven't.
If "Step on Out" demonstrates one thing conclusively, it's that the Oak Ridge Boys are far more entertaining in concert than on record. The album includes a couple of tunes, notably "Touch a Hand" and "Little Things" (a nice showcase for the group's strongest vocalist, tenor Joe Bonsall), that enliven their shows but sound awfully flat on vinyl. And while the quartet has the good sense to choose material from songwriters such as Robbie Robertson, Russell Smith and Chris Hillman, the songs often suffer in comparison. Robertson's "Ophelia," for example, possesses neither the emotion of The Band's original version nor the soulfulness Ray Charles later lavished on it.
By contrast, Exile does boast a couple of prolific songwriters: guitarist and vocalist J.P. Pennington and bassist Sonny Lemaire. Trouble is, on the album "Hang Onto Your Heart," the duo seldom comes up with anything more striking than a catchy chorus (as on "I Could Get Used to You") or the kind of homogenized country music represented by the title tune.
Granted, there is something of a surprise here, a modified rap song called "She Likes Her Lovin' Music." But like virtually everything else on this album, it wears thin fast.