The Happy Goodman Family – Portrait of Excitement (1968)

by | Mar 2, 2022 | LP Review, Reviews

I am exceptionally excited about this week’s review because this is one of my all-time favorite records. It’s one of the records I found in the bottom of my dad’s closet that introduced me to the Happy Goodman Family. These songs are part of my earliest musical memories, and along with attending church as a kid with my parents, this was my introduction to Jesus.

As they had done in 1967, the group released 2 albums in 1968, and “Portrait of Excitement” was their 2nd release for the year, and their 5th record for Canaan. The cover picture is one of my favorite pictures of the group and as I have already stated, it’s one of my all-time favorite records. This album may also be where I get my love for the color purple as well! As you can tell from the picture, Vestal is now sporting a full-blown beehive. Over time though, it will change slightly in shape and size, but she’ll maintain it for the next 10 years, much to the delight of her fans…and her hairdresser!

As the title implies, this album is truly a “Portrait of Excitement”. In concert, the Goodmans always provided the crowd with an exciting program filled with up-tempo songs and they always seemed to leave the audience clamoring for more. Much like their concerts, “Portrait of Excitement” is a jubilant and exciting album filled with infectious music and great singing, and the musicianship on this album is exceptional as well. Comparing this record to their previous works, there was definitely a forward push to be a little more innovative and to put out something that was better than their previous works.

The album starts out with Rusty Goodman’s amazing masterpiece, “Had it Not Been”. The group hasn’t recorded any songs written by Rusty since their first album on Canaan in 1966. So, after a 3-album drought, Rusty comes out with this stunning song, and it’s my all-time favorite Rusty Goodman song. All their previous albums (7 in total) had begun with a peppy, upbeat number; but contrary to the title of the album, this record starts out slow and reflective. I love the piano intro on the song, as it truly sets the mood and allows Rusty to give us one of his greatest performances ever and the song goes down as one of their greatest hits.

By contrast, Vestal soon has your hands clapping and your feet tapping with the classic tune, “There’ll Be Shouting”. As a kid, I could never get enough of this song and would constantly play this song over and over again. The song still makes me feel like a kid again when I listen to it. It’s just a great song and a great delivery by the group.

Next, Rusty recalls his days when he was singing with the Plainsmen Quartet on the great song, “How About You”. Rusty sang with the Plainsmen Quartet from around 1957 to 1963, and this was a song he recorded with them back in 1961 on their outstanding album, “Someone’s Watching Over You”. Prior to the Plainsmen Quartet, the Blackwood Brothers also had a run with the song back in the 1950’s when Bill Lyles was singing bass for the group. Using the Plainsmen Quartet’s version as a guide, Rusty spruced it up a bit, and it was a nice laid-back song to include on this album.

Bobby is up next, as he sings one of my favorite songs that he recorded, “Precious Lord, Keep Your Mighty Hand on Me”, written by Tommy Atwood of the Florida Boys, before Howard picks up the tempo with the fun and infectious, “Crossing Over Jordan”. Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the piano licks throughout this song, especially the runs during the second verse. I never knew who played piano on this album, but I recently found out that Eddie Crook played on about half the songs (David Young played on the album as well), but unsure who is actually tickling the ivories on this particular song. It’s a fun song to listen to and one of my favorites from this album, as is the Joel Hemphill penned, “There’s Been a lot of Changes”. This song features Rusty, and is a delightful tune showcasing that wonderful charisma Rusty delivers on these types of songs, and it rounds out side 1 on a happy note.

Sam opens the second side with his own happy composition, “Big Homecoming”. This upbeat number is a delightful gem and was a popular song for the group during this time. Vestal brought this song back on her 1999 “Vestal & Friends” recording and features Jake Hess on the song. It too, is a delightful listen!

Howard steps back up to sing the acoustically flavored, “Take Me in the Lifeboat”, another popular song for the group, before Vestal sings the Dottie Rambo classic, “The Holy Hills of Heaven”. Though it seemed everyone in the industry recorded this wonderful Rambo tune, the Goodmans rendition is my personal favorite. I also loved the updated version they used on their late 70s TV show, “Down Home with the Happy Goodman Family”. Both renditions feature spectacular performances by Vestal, and both are unique in their own right.

Slowing the tempo down, Howard leads off the compelling, “Soul’s Harbor”, but soon Vestal takes the lead and offers one of her best vocal performances on the song, as she soars up on those high notes and leaves the listener breathless on this hauntingly beautiful song.

The recording closes out with two exciting and happy songs…the convention favorite, “Glad Reunion Day” (another song I listened to incessantly as a kid) and the classic, “When I Reach That City”, which features another stellar performance by Vestal. When the final note is sung, you know you’ve listened to a special album!

This album gave everyone a good chance to shine and be featured. The Goodmans were on top of their game vocally and the musicians that played on the album did a fantastic job as well. There are no weak spots found on this recording and it’s truly an exciting and infectious album. I honestly feel “Portrait of Excitement” represents their best work at the time. Filled with exciting new songs along with classic, time-honored favorites done up anew (but nothing from the Red Back Hymnal), it’s truly an enjoyable musical masterpiece. When comparing both their 1968 releases, they are both very different from one another and have very distinct personalities. “The Happy Gospel” was a more laid-back album, and “Portrait of Excitement” was upbeat and exciting! Given its title, this album was truly a masterpiece of excitement and I feel that it showcased their best work from the 1960s!

Next week, we’ll close out the 60s as the Goodmans set the stage for some exciting music headed into the 70s!

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James Hales

James Hales

James is a lifelong fan of Southern Gospel Music. Being exposed to the music through his dad's record collection as a 7 or 8 year old boy in the late 70's, James grew to love the music of the Happy Goodmans, Kingsmen, Inspirations, Rambos, Florida Boys and others. James has been a staff writer for Absolutely Gospel since 2000 writing music reviews and various articles, and he has contributed to Musicscribe and for several years as well. James also writes for his own music page on Facebook as well, via James' Music Page (


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