Much to the delight of fans everywhere, Vestal returns to the group with their 1975 release, “Covered in Warmth”. Though she only sings one song on the album, it’s like a breath of fresh air and the group sounds refreshed as well! While some Goodman fans may have languished over their last album not being “Goodman” enough (understandably), on this album though, the group has that old “Goodman” feel again. Gone are the background vocals (except for one song), gone are the extra strings and gone are the individual solo performances, as all the songs are performed by the group, with the exception of one (which is a recitation). It’s a very upbeat and exciting album, and it ranks as one of my all-time favorite Goodman albums. While I love the old time pictures on the cover, I’ve never been too keen on the overall cover work for this album and I wish they had a picture of the group for the cover; I’ve always preferred pictures of the group on album/CD covers, but that’s just me.
The recording starts out with Vestal giving an emotion filled performance on the Aaron Wilburn/Eddie Crook penned, “Just Any Day Now”. This is her first recorded effort since returning to the group after open heart surgery and it’s the triumph of the album. The fans obviously approved, as the song enjoyed about 8 months in the Top 20 chart, peaking in January 1976 at #7. You can tell she isn’t at 100%, as there is a noticeable heavy vibrato in her singing, but it truly is THE highlight of the album. Though Vestal takes the lead throughout the whole song, it sounds like Howard takes the coda at the end, but there is a live version of this song by the group on You Tube with Johnny Cook taking the coda, and it’s just out of sight, and I wish that had been captured for the album.
Slowing the tempo down, Rusty performs one of my all-time favorite features of his on the song, “I’ll Never Be the Same Anymore”. Penned by Charles Feltner, it’s a remarkable song of consecration and remembrance of the life changing message of the cross. The riveting lyric are filled with raw emotion, and Rusty interprets the song perfectly.
Keeping things in a more somber mood, Sam delivers, what I feel, is his finest (and my personal favorite) recitation, “Daddy Come on In”. It’s the only “non-group” song on the album, and while quite sad, it put things into perspective for a dad who chose not to accept Christ as his Savior and being forever separated from his boys. As many times as I’ve heard this recitation, it still never fails to bring a tear to my eye. As Sam was the father of 2 boys, I am sure it hit close to home for him and allowed him to deliver the recitation with genuine, heartfelt emotion.
With the electric guitar kicking things off, the tempo picks up as Howard delivers the goods on the Linda Stalls classic, “Stepping on the Clouds”. While the song was already a huge hit song for the LeFevres by the time this album was released, the Goodmans put their own spin on the song and it’s my favorite rendition of the song.
Rounding out this side, is the fun “Handshakes and Smiles”, written by and featuring Rusty. This clever novelty song really shows what a versatile songwriter Rusty was and showcases his ability to enthusiastically deliver the goods on these types of fun songs.
Side 2 starts off with my one of my all-time favorite Goodman tunes, “Meet Me Over on the Other Side”. Written by Linda Stalls (my favorite song of hers), I listened to this exciting song incessantly as a kid and it still brings me joy every time I hear it. The ending, with everyone coming in at a different time, just slays it for me! If you want to hear something really cool, check out a live version of this song by the group from Little Rock, Arkansas on You Tube. Johnny Cook hits a home run on the end of this song and it’s the epitome of excitement. Oddly, the song never broke the Top 10 and I’ve never understood why, as it’s a great song and captured the true essence of the Goodmans at the time.
With Eddie Crook’s snappy piano intro, “John the Revelator” follows and is a classic tune penned by Rusty. This was another short-lived chart song for the group, peaking at #9 in January 1976. This has been one of those fun songs that has been recorded numerous times over the years by various artists including Teddy Huffam & The Gems, Gaither Vocal Band, Michael English, Freemans, and many others. I always love it when this song pop ups on someone’s recording or someone stages the song.
The tempo slows down as Johnny Cook delivers one of his finest vocal performances on the JD Sumner penned classic, “I Can Feel the Touch of His Hand”. Using a tactic they used a lot in their earlier days, they slowed the tempo down as they repeat the last part of the chorus, and with just Johnny and the piano, allowed him to take his time and it truly is the crowning moment of the song. The guitar work at the beginning of the song is absolutely beautiful and perfectly sets the mood for this reflective masterpiece.
Rusty penned and sings the plaintive, “I’ll Be Alright”, and it’s one of my favorite songs that Rusty wrote. Mike Bowling did an awesome rendition of this song several years and was joined by Rusty’s daughter, Tanya, on the song. This song is never one of the first songs you think of when you start naming off Rusty Goodman songs, but I really do think it’s one of his most honest and heartfelt songs, and it’s one of my personal favorites.
Sam steps up to sing the campmeeting favorite, “King Jesus will Roll my Burdens Away” before the recording closes out with the exciting “It’s Just Like Heaven”, which comes out of the Redback Hymnal. This is another song I couldn’t get enough of as a kid and it’s my favorite rendition of this classic song. I absolutely love Eddie’s piano work throughout this song…it really puts a new meaning to “tickling the ivories”! Also, I noticed some vocal overdubs by Rusty on this song as well, which added an exciting dynamic to an already thrilling song.
As I stated earlier, this is one of my all-time favorite Goodman albums, and I feel it captured the true excitement of the group at the time, but I am left scratching my head as to why the songs released from this album didn’t fare as well in the charts as I felt they should have. The only thing I can surmise is that during the mid-70s, there was a lot of competition for the top spots in the charts. Unlike just a few years prior when the Goodmans dominated the top 10, there was now a lot of added competition, and many great songs just couldn’t get the traction needed. Plus, the Goodmans were still riding that wave called “What a Beautiful Day”, which was still a hot song for the group at the time, and maybe radio just couldn’t get past that song. Who knows?
“Covered in Warmth” has a raw feel to it and it’s a very exciting and enjoyable album to listen to. With Rusty and Marvin producing and a scaled back list of just 7 musicians (most of whom were in the Goodman’s band at the time), they put together a recording that was about as near perfect as anyone could do. I would have loved, though, to have heard a bit more of Vestal, but there are so many great and exciting songs with Johnny, Sam, Howard and Rusty, I “almost” didn’t miss her (GASP!!! Did I really just say that?!). But I just can’t get over how awesome the group sounds on this album. But all good things must come to an end, and changes are on the horizon for the coming year as Johnny and Eddie both eventually exit the group. In fact, the next 4-5 years would signal lots of changes for the group, as each forthcoming album would be starkly different from each other. As the musical landscape for gospel music would dramatically change during the mid to late 70s, the Goodmans would work to keep up with some of those changes to remain relevant, while also maintaining their Goodman identity.
After 2 solid years of consistency and renewed success, change boarded the Nelons bus once again. Nonetheless, they came together to release this massive recording entitled, “We’ve Got to Praise Him”.