Sometime in mid to late 1977, Johnny Cook had returned to the Goodmans, as had Eddie Crook, upon Johnny Minick’s departure. After their return to the group, work began on this recording, which was probably their biggest musical endeavor to date, and it was a slight departure from the Goodman sound. While some songs did fit that mold, there is definitely some creative “out of the box” thinking here, which would really come into play more so on their next album; but for the first time, we hear some true orchestral arrangements behind the group on select songs. Also, the background singers return on several songs, which have been absent from the last 2-3 albums. The recording is produced by Rusty and Rick Goodman, with Marvin serving as Executive Producer. While some are part of the orchestra, there are 19 musicians credited here, including Eddie Crook, Rick Goodman, Steve Easter, Joe Maxwell (Ernie Maxwell’s son), Henry Strzelecki and John Hughey. Recorded at Electric Arts during November and December 1977, it’s a tremendous piece of work that won the Goodmans a Grammy Award for “Best Gospel Performance” for 1978, and it was their second Grammy Award. (Their first was in 1968 for “The Happy Gospel of the Happy Goodmans” album)
This is a unique recording in that there are actually 2 versions of this album out there. I am assuming that after Johnny left in 1978, they went back into the studio and replaced a couple of Johnny Cook features with Vestal. It’s only on 2 songs that his vocals were replaced, and I’ll point them out as we go along. Another unique feature is that iconic cover shot! As I mentioned earlier, the album was recorded in November/December of 1977, so I am assuming the picture may have been taken in January of the following year. Nothing is more refreshing than having a picnic out in the snow, and the cover shot was a wonderful advertisement for Tab soft-drinks and Kentucky Fried Chicken as well! Wonder if they got any royalties for that endorsement? Anyway…
The recording starts off with a wonderful duet by Vestal and Johnny called, “That Sounds Like Home to Me”. Written by Aaron Wilburn and Eddie Crook, it’s my personal favorite Aaron Wilburn tune. This is one of the songs that was changed on later pressings, and instead of it being a duet, it became a Vestal solo, with Vestal singing harmony with herself, as they went back and replaced all of Johnny’s vocals on the song with Vestal. Either version is stellar, as it’s a wonderful song and it was great to see Vestal revive the song on their 2000 release, “Set Your Sails”. The song was never a chart-topper, but it was a very popular song and it’s one of those songs that keeps popping up from time to time by various artists; which is a testament to its popularity and the tremendous message that is found in the song.
With electric guitars blazing, the group tears into a ramped-up version of the quartet classic, “Let Out of Bondage”. Rusty does a phenomenal job spitting out the verses on this high-speed song. The music track is superb, featuring some really cool licks from the steel guitar and electric guitar. This is a little throwback to the mid-70s version of the Goodmans with Johnny, Howard, Sam and Rusty singing as the “Happy Goodman Male Quartet”, as Vestal does not appear to be singing on the song.
The tempo slows down as Johnny reverently sings, “The Lord’s Prayer”. While it’s not exactly Goodman fare, it fits well on this album. This is another song they went back and replaced Johnny’s vocals with Vestal, as future pressings have Vestal delivering the solo, and she obviously had to fall back on her early opera training to belt out some of those high notes in this song. Of course, I like Vestal’s version over Johnny’s, but both are truly spectacular pieces of work, and prove the Goodmans can sing traditional classical material as good as anyone else!
Howard steps up next to sing “I’m Going Through” and the song has a wonderful presence on this album. Coming straight out of the Redback Hymnal, they use an old trick they perfected back in the 60’s by slowing down the second verse, thereby allowing Howard to thoughtfully deliver each line and phrase, and it’s golden. The McKameys also had great success with this song back in the mid-90’s. (Ironically, the McKameys had originally recorded this song earlier in their career back in the late 70’s.)
Sam then steps up to deliver a commanding and passionate delivery on the patriotic recitation, “The Pledge of Allegiance”. With “America the Beautiful” as a musical backdrop, Sam dissects each line of the Pledge and it’s a powerful reminder of what the pledge truly means. The late comedian, Red Skelton did this several years prior to Sam’s version, and that may have been where Sam originally heard it, but it’s an incredible closing to the first half of the album.
Side 2 starts off with the snappy, up-tempo quartet classic, “As For Me and My House, We’ll Serve the Lord”, before Rusty turns in an exceptional solo performance on his own song, “Don’t Let Me See”. This is one of those deep, thought-provoking songs of his, and I’ve always wanted to know the backstory to this song and what inspired Rusty to write it.
Next, with its iconic musical intro, the group tears into “I Believe He’s Coming Back”, which was also written by Rusty. This song was a huge hit for the group, peaking at #2 in the Singing News Top 20 charts. I wish the song had made it to #1, but there was heavy competition for the #1 spot at the time with several very strong songs by the top groups in the industry. The song though, would spend almost 2 years in the charts between 1978 and 1980, and it is still considered to be one of the Goodmans’ all-time greatest hits. I remember the first time I heard the song was on the Tennessee Ernie Ford special, “That Great American Gospel Sound” back in 1978; I thought it was the greatest song I’d ever heard! Even today, the song still is exciting for me to hear, and it too, is one of those songs that keeps popping up every now and then, and it always seems to resonate well with the audience.
Johnny is featured next on the Joel Hemphill penned, “Walking in God’s Sunshine”. With its dancing fiddle, it’s a delightful inclusion on the recording, before the tempo slows down as Vestal sings the Easter Brothers’ classic tune, “Thank You Lord for Your Blessings on Me”, which closes out the recording. Vestal performs the song flawlessly, and it has all the “Goodman” elements needed for a great song, and it’s my favorite rendition of the song.
By all accounts, this is a wonderful album and is one of my favorite Goodman records, and it was definitely worthy of the 1978 Grammy win. While some of the songs fit the Goodman mold, “Refreshing” doesn’t completely embody that signature Goodman feel and sound. The times were a’changin’, and the Goodmans were doing their part to keep up with the rapidly changing musical landscape of the 70’s. Great strides were taken to provide the listener with a high-quality recording that exceeded the norm and was somewhat out of the box for the average SG artist, and I believe they succeeded. With its “refreshing” sound and iconic cover shot, it ranks as one of the most memorable and popular albums in the Goodman catalog, as well as one of the greatest albums of all time.
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”.