The Definitives: “Holy Is Thy Name”

One of the great songs of our genre that combines harmony and power and has been recorded by many artists is “Holy Is Thy Name”.  Originally recorded by the Rex Nelon Singers on their debut LP, The Sun’s Coming Up, the song has been covered by many groups over the years.  The Ruppes, Legacy Five (does anyone else a rehearsal of this that was actually “released” for a short time right after the formation of the group as a preview of the group’s sound?), The Cathedrals, and The Singing Americans include the artists that have recorded this song.  However, the definitive version belongs to a later recording of the song by the group that debuted it.

Recorded in 1995 on their Hallelujah Live project, this Nelons lineup features Charlotte Penhollow (now Ritchie), Kelly Nelon (now Clark), Jerry Thompson, and Rex Nelon, along with Stan Whitmire on piano.  The song begins with Kelly singing the first verse solo with Whitmire’s impeccable accompaniment on piano.  The first chorus features Kelly, Jerry, Stan, and Rex, with Charlotte adding some background harmony on Kelly’s step out lines and the harmony is just fabulous.  The key then goes up a half step and the other instruments kick in for Kelly’s second verse, which is great, and the chorus repeats as before.  The key changes again and Charlotte takes the lead with Stan dropping out vocally and there is an incredibly strong chorus with a choir backing the Nelons through the power tag.

This is just a fantastic performance of a great song.  The arrangement is the progressive/inspirational style that the Nelons do so well, Whitmire’s piano playing is nothing short of spectacular, and all the vocals are in the pocket and dead on.  This song is a perfect example of why this particular lineup of the Nelons is one of my favorites.

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Review: Nelons – Come On Home

This is the newest release from the Nelons.  Produced by Jason Clark and Bill Gaither, the CD features vocals from Amber Thompson, Kelly Nelon Clark, and Jason Clark, with a guest appearance on the first track by Gaither.

Tracks:

  1. I Have Seen The Children – This is a mid tempo tune by Gloria Gaither and Paul Overstreet that features Amber Thompson.  It is fairly acoustic driven, though there are strings behind a prominent banjo.  After the first verse and chorus, Bill Gaither makes an appearance on the first part of the second verse.  The trio finish the verse and then are joined by Gaither’s bass vocals on the last verse and throughout the last chorus.  While Bill is no Rex Nelon, it is nice to hear the current Nelons lineup with a bass vocal present.  It’s a solid tune.  8/10
  2. Come On Home – This is a classic Bill and Gloria Gaither tune that is given an acoustic ballad treatment and again features Amber Thompson.  There’s some really pretty harmony, and it’s a bit unusual in that Kelly Clark sings the harmony part above Amber’s melody throughout the song.  It’s a beautiful song with smooth harmonies. 9/10
  3. Come To The River – Written by Suzanne Jennings and Woody Wright, this is probably the most uptempo song on the project, but it is nowhere near barn burner territory.  It is, however, one of the best cuts on the CD.  It is again acoustic instrument driven (this will become a recurring theme in this review, trust me).  Amber, Kelly, and Jason share solo lines on the first three lines of the first verse before joining together to finish the verse out and head in to the chorus.  Kelly has some nice moving harmony parts at the end of the chorus.  The same pattern is repeated for the second verse.  I like the track to this song, the “river” theme of the song is enhanced by percussion that is reminiscent of the puffing of a steamboat, not totally unlike what Brian Wilson did in secular music with his solo suite “Rio Grande.”  9.5/10
  4. Somebody’s Praying – This classic by John C. Elliott starts with fiddle before acoustic guitars take over the track and Kelly Clark lends her smooth, tender alto vocals to the song.  After the first verse by Kelly, Amber and Jason lend their harmonies to the rest of the song.  It’s a very smooth, pretty version of the song. 8/10
  5. Down To The River – Delivered completely acappella, Amber Thompson starts off this tune solo, then Kelly Clark joins halfway through the first verse.  Amber and Jason Clark take the second verse as a duet, then the third time through Kelly rejoins to complete the harmony.  It’s a neat way to do the song and give the listener a lesson in how the group’s harmonies are constructed. 8/10
  6. The Diff’rence Is In Me – Written in 1979 by Bill and Gloria Gaither, this mid tempo tune has a bit of a shuffle feel to it, and features Amber Thompson, with Jason and Kelly providing backing harmonies.  Amber is very quickly becoming one of the most commanding female vocalists in this genre, and this song gives her an opportunity to shine.  She doesn’t disappoint. 9/10
  7. Excuse Me, Are You Jesus – One of the few truly new songs this CD, this acoustic ballad was written by Bill Gaither, Gloria Gaither, and Larry Gatlin.  It’s a story song about a man rushing through an airport that crashes into an apple stand that was run by a blind girl.  He misses his flight by taking the time to help the girl put her apple stand back together and gives her some money to pay for the ruined apples.  She asks him, “Excuse me, are you Jesus?”  It’s a terrific lyric that Jason Clark sings very well.  This is another highlight of the recording.  9/10
  8. Handful Of Dust – Written by Anthony Arata, this is a mid to uptempo tune that has a bit of a driving acoustic country feel.  Kelly Clark takes the melody on this song and turns in a nice performace.  The group blend on the chorus is especially smooth.  I like the sound of the group with Kelly on the melody with Amber above her and Jason below.  The tag is nice, as it starts with some stratospherically high “oohs” that gently make their way back to earth.  8/10
  9. Morning Has Broken – Elanor Farjean’s timeless classic is performed expertly by Amber Thompson.  This is some of the highest singing I’ve heard from Amber, and she delivers the high notes sweetly and effortlessly.  Amber has the first verse and a half solo, before her mother joins her for some duet lines on the second verse.  The same thing is repeated on the third verse.  The first verse is repeated with Jason joining in to create some beautiful trio harmony.  8.5/10
  10. When He Talked About His Home – Originally recorded by the Gaither Vocal Band, this Bill Gaither, Gloria Gaither, and Woody Wright penned ballad is performed by Jason Clark here.  Jason does a nice job on the story telling lyric that Guy Penrod carried so well on the GVB version.  It’s a solid rendition of the song, but I prefer the GVB version.  7.5/10
  11. The Sun’s Coming Up – Dee Gaskins classic, which was one of the Nelons’ first big chart hits, finds itself re-recorded here.  The arrangement is a bit more mountain influenced than the pure country sound of the original, but the vocal arrangement is almost the exact same as the original, except the tag doesn’t climb like the original version did.  It’s interesting hearing the current lineup of the group tackle this Nelons classic track.  I almost with Bill Gaither had added his bass vocals to this track as well.  As it is, it’s excellent.  9/10
  12. I Choose The Lord – Written by Micah Henson, this is another mid tempo acoustic tune that has a bit of a driving feel again.  Jason Clark takes the lead on this song and does a fine job.  At the end of the chorus, there’s a repeat of the phrase “and to beat it all” by Amber that when I hear it makes me pine for a solid bass vocal like a Tim Riley or Richard Sterban.  It’s a solid song.  8/10
  13. I Heard It First On The Radio – This is another cover of a Bill and Gloria Gaither penned tune that was previously recorded by the Gaither Vocal Band.  It’s a credible rendition that features Amber with a smooth lead vocal.  Jason Clark takes the melody for a while toward the end of the song before Amber reclaims it.  To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of this song when the GVB recorded it.  Still not a huge fan.  The performance is fine, the harmony is smooth, and Amber does a fine job on her lead vocal.  In fact, I may even prefer this version to the GVB, but I’ve just always been neutral on the song.  7/10
  14. Jesus, I Just Wanna Say I’m Sorry – Jason Clark contributed this song.  It’s an acoustic guitar driven ballad that again features Amber Thompson.  It’s a pretty tune that Amber deftly weaves her way through, with nice lyrics that paint a poignant picture of our journey with Christ and a plea for forgiveness of our failures.  This is another real highlight of the disc.  It’s a testament that Amber can take a lyric that lends itself toward an older, more experienced believer and convey the message so convincingly.  Great song.  9/10
  15. The Little Brown Church – The album closes on this mid tempo Jason Clark penned tune.  Jason takes the melody on this song that hearkens back to the lyric of “Church In The Wildwood” in several spots.  There’s a nice smooth blend on this mountain flavored track.  It’s a well executed end to the album.  7.5/10

Overall: 8  Readers of my generation who also listened to secular music may remember when the television station MTV actually played music and had a show called “Unplugged” that featured stars of the day on a sound stage with (mostly) acoustic instruments.  This album is “The Nelons Unplugged.”  Nearly all of the instrumentation is acoustic, and the entire recording has a mellow, mountain flavor to it.  There are spots in this recording that remind of you of The Isaacs in style.  That isn’t a bad thing.  I could have stood some more upbeat tracks, but this album has a “concept album” type feel, and it succeeds very well in staying true to that concept.

Amber Thompson is very much in the forefront on this album, and her performances leave no doubt that she deserves the spotlight.  She is already one of the top young vocalists in SG today.  Kelly’s vocals are impeccable on this album, with her work on “Somebody’s Praying” keeping the song from the ranks of “ANOTHER version of this song?” territory, and hearing her sing “The Sun’s Coming Up” again is a special treat.  The acoustic, mountain flavor of the album really plays to Jason Clark’s vocal strengths, he does very well in this style.

Does this album measure up against their previous release, Beside Still Waters?  Not really, but then again, I don’t think that was the idea behind this project.  Come On Home is a chance for the Nelons to scale back the arrangements, and really let listeners become acquainted with each of the vocalists that make up the current configuration of the group.  It does this exceedingly well.  While there probably isn’t a chart topping single on the CD (though “Come To The River” or “Jesus, I Wanna Say I’m Sorry” would likely do well as radio songs), what this CD does give you is a pleasant, easy listen that can soothe a troubled mind.  This would make a great CD to pop in when life seems to be spinning out of control, as it works well to soothe and calm the listener.  If you’ve not heard the current version of the Nelons, pick a copy of this album up, as with 15 tracks it is a great way to immerse yourself in the current version of The Nelons.  Great job by all involved!

Catching Up

I was out of town on business last week, so there were a few things that came out then and in the time since that I wanted to mention:

  • Jeff Steele is recovering from a serious fall and possible stroke. Be in prayer for Jeff and his family.
  • Gordon Mote is leaving the Gaither Tour as tour pianist.  The GVB is currently seeking a new pianist.  Mote had the unenviable position of following the late Anthony Burger, who was larger than life as a pianist.  Mote did so by carving his own niche and he will be missed on the tour, though he will be appearing on Gaither special events.
  • I’m working on new reviews for the Nelons, Mercy’s Well, and the Dills, so be watching for those coming soon.
  • There’s a video making rounds of the Kingsmen with Chris Jenkins singing “The Judgement.”  It’s a very promising sound…
  • I’d appreciate your prayers tomorrow, May 30, as my wife heads in for surgery to remove about half of her thyroid.  I’ll be out of pocket for the next 2 days at least, as the surgery requires at least an overnight stay in the hospital.  If all goes well, we should be home on Thursday, but she has a recovery period of 2-3 weeks, during which time I will have to be Mr. Mom.  Prayers for my sanity will be much appreciated!  🙂

Update On The 100 Year Celebration Of SG DVD

On his latest open thread, AVFL asks why there hasn’t been a DVD release of the big 100 Year Celebration showcase from NQC last year that featured reunions of many popular groups (Gold City, Singing Americans, Downings, Nelons, etc.).  I’ve been wondering the same thing myself, so I asked Daywind about it, as they were the label that had rights to release the video.

In response, I have learned that the DVD is due to be released at NQC this year, and will be titled 100 Years: A Celebration of Southern Gospel Music.  So there you have it.  Be looking for the DVD at convention this year, and of course if anything changes, I’ll keep you updated as best I can.

Hidden Gems: The Nelons – “Holy Is Thy Name”

This is one of those songs that has been sung by a ton of groups, with Legacy Five staging it currently to feature Gus Gaches.  Even the Nelons had previously recorded this song, on their debut album as The Rex Nelons Singers, but the version found on their Hallelujah Live project from 1995 is a stellar, if lesser known, version.  This configuration of the group featured Charlotte Ritchie on soprano, Kelly Nelon (Thompson, at the time) singing alto, Jerry Thompson on tenor, Rex Nelon on Bass, with Stan Whitmire at the piano and Todd Nelon on the bass guitar.  This is actually the opening song on the project.  Kelly takes the verses, with Charlotte taking the melody on the choruses.  This song was incredibly well suited for both of them.  Kelly has a Karen Carpenter-like sound on the verses, and Charlotte by this time was really starting to come into her own as a vocalist.  After the second chorus, the key changes and goes up a fourth, I believe and Charlotte is able to display a bit more range.  Throughout the song, the background harmonies and group vocals on the chorus are fabulous.  Also deserving mention is Whitmire’s incredible piano stylings.  It’s no wonder he is so often raved for his artistry at the keys, and this song allows him to showcase the immense talent that oozes from his fingers.  There is a choir that joins in after the key change as well, but in contrast to a lot of songs I’ve heard lately that have a choir backing the group, the Nelons’ vocals remain out front, and are not in any way drowned out by the choir.  The choir simply accentuates the song, without becoming the focal point.  If you’ve got this CD, pull it out and spin up track one again.  If this song and performance don’t move you, something’s wrong!

NQC ’10: Wrap Up

I was able to listen for quite a while Friday night on enLighten.  Here are more thoughts, summaries, etc.:

  • Janet Paschal’s female quartet was quite the talk of the Twitter/Facebook/Blogs.  If not hitting the road, those four ladies should definitely consider doing a CD together.
  • EHSS did their whole set previewing their Cathedrals Tribute project and it was very solid.  “We Shall See Jesus” was great.
  • The GVB was also very well received.
  • The 100 Years Showcase on Saturday was the big event, and will be released on DVD by Daywind.
  • Gold City was the star of the show, and did 3 full songs: “When I Get Carried Away”, “I Think I’ll Read It Again”, and “Midnight Cry.”
  • The Singing Americans were next up in terms of popularity.  Michael English still isn’t totally recovered from neck surgery, he had said Friday night his voice was about 50%, so Clayton Inman joined in on the reunion.
  • The Nelons reunion set was also very strong, with Katy Peach and Karen Peck Gooch especially “stealing the show.”

What are your memorable moments from the convention this year?  Who really stands out to you as the noteworthy artists from this year’s NQC that should see a nice bump in popularity?  Who impressed you?

Albums That Cause Amnesia

Nate and I were discussing Kyle’s latest Recording Oddities post about Gold City’s Answer The Call album, and the fact that a great album like ATC is largely overlooked these days, especially since it was the precursor to Pillars Of Faith.  (Be looking for a new series on forgotten albums in the next few days, and that one will be Exhibit A.)  Nate made a very astute statement.

Pillars was so huge it caused a lot of amnesia to their discography.”

I tend to agree.  These days, when discussing great albums by Gold City, the discussion basically starts with POF, and goes forward from there.  You’ll see albums mentioned like Walk The Talk, Revival, and Preparing The Way mentioned.  While those albums have their own merits, there were some great albums before Pillars as well.  Windows Of Home is an incredible album, probably the best pre-Pillars recording in their catalog.  There are others, the aforementioned Answer The Call, Live, Movin’ Up, Portrait are wonderful albums, and Double Take is one of the best live albums you’ll hear.  All these are largely forgotten these days, as Pillars really seemed to draw a line in the sand for the group.

I’d posit that Something Special accomplished the same thing for the Cathedrals.  How much do people ever discuss albums like Welcome To Our World, With Brass, or With Strings?  Those are great albums, as are Live In Concert and Then And Now.  It seems that Something Special really drew the same kind of line in the sand for the Cathedrals that Pillars did for Gold City.

What do you think?  Can you think of other albums that seemed to cause most previous ones by the artist to be forgotten, even though there were some great ones before?  How about We Shall Behold The King by the Nelons?  Does that one fit?

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