The word "friends" take depth and dimension in the life of Willie Wynn. Wynn is not someone who makes fair weather friends and then burns the bridges at the advent of stormy weathers. When he makes friends, they are his friends for life. If you want proof, a casual perusal of this CD's liner notes will give affirmation. Some of the guests who appear on this record (which include the Oak Ridge Boys, Ponder Sykes and Wright, Bill Gaither, Ben Speer, Sweetwater and Tennesseans, Elmer Cole, Gene McDonald and Dave Maddox) have already bonded a friendship with Wynn for more than half a century. Moreover, after years of retirement, it was also at the behest of Wynn's long time friend (and producer) Woody Wright that this record came to fruition. And besides surrounding the recording with his friends' support, songs that expound on the theme of friendship flourish across these 11 newly recorded songs.
To fans of Southern Gospel music, Willie Wynn, also known as "Little Willie," needs no introduction. Despite the various permutations Oak Ridge Quartet/Boys has had undergone over the years, Wynn was one of earliest to lend his tenor to the quartet (1956-1973). After his stint with the Oaks, he spent some time with the Statesmen before starting his own quartet in 1975 called the Tennesseans. Later the group evolved into the Sweetwaters in the 80s. And in the 90s, Wynn was singing part time with a group known as Destiny before calling it quits for good. Thus, it is a marvel that Little Willie would once again return to the studios with Woody Wright in the recording of this project.
Despite its titular "Willie Wynn and Friends," his friends for the most part only play a supportive role in providing the harmony vocals with the limelight still resting on Wynn himself. The album finds Wynn re-visiting some old favorites as well as newer material. The Woody Wright-penned "The Oak Ridge Boys and Me" is the album's nerve center. Biographical of Wynn's own journey from his early childhood to his time with the Oak Ridge Quartet/Boys, "The Oak Ridge Boys and Me" is apologetic of Wynn's life mission: as long as his songs continue to touch lives, he finds his time justified. And Wynn's mission is definitely accomplished with a song like the Elmer Cole composed "My Friends." Here Wynn demonstrates his zeal for the Gospel in detailing that his utmost wish for his friends is that he might one day see them all in heaven.
Using the call and response modus operandi, Wynn trades vocals with Bill Gaither on the assuring "'Til the Last Leaf Shall Fall from the Tree." In the wrong hands "Mama's Last Amen" could sound disastrously saccharine. But in the mastery grasp of Wynn, with just the right restrain and nuances, "Mama's Last Amen" is an extremely moving piece. The Sweetwaters offer their help to "Lord I Hope This Day is Good;," a song popularized by Don Williams and later by Lee Ann Womack. Nevertheless, regardless of the copious covers, the starkly honest lyrics still has the ability to impact the heart: "Lord, I hope this day is good/I'm feelin' empty and misunderstood/I should be thankful, Lord, I know I should/But Lord I hope this day is good." In the company of good friends, well-chosen songs, and Wright's contemporary yet reverently country backings, there's not much here to complain about.