The Happy Goodman Family – The Reunion (1990)

by James Hales | June 15, 2022 10:25 PM

“The Reunion”. I love that title. Many artists have released reunion recordings under the title, “Reunion” or “Reunited”, etc. But this reunion was bigger than life! It wasn’t just “A” reunion…this was “THE” reunion! The cover adorned in beautiful shades of purple with Howard, Sam, Rusty and Vestal pictured together with a black backdrop was perfect! I couldn’t imagine a more perfect cover for “The Reunion”.

I remember when I first heard the family was going back into the studio to work on a new recording. In the July 1989 issue of the Singing News, they ran a wonderful feature story on Howard and Vestal, and towards the end of that article, they mentioned they were starting work on a new recording with the original 4. I was ecstatic! Words cannot convey the excitement I felt as a 17-year-old kid! Fast forward to 1990, and “The Reunion” was finally released in late summer/early fall. If I remember correctly, a 50-city tour was planned, and I was so excited at the thought that I would finally get to see my heroes singing on stage for the first time in my life. But it was not to be, as Rusty would succumb to cancer on November 11th of that year, and Sam would pass less than a year later, on August 5, 1991. Thankfully, God allowed them both to live long enough to reunite for one last recording.

Many times, (regardless of the genre) I’ve seen these types of recordings fail to live up to expectations. Either the needed support isn’t there, the singers aren’t able to pull it off well, or some other element fails to fall into place. In this case, while the Goodmans were getting up in age and some dealing with health issues, they put everything they had into this recording. They also had full support by their record company and were able to put together an outstanding recording that sounded great! The vocals, arrangements, instrumentation, song selection and overall quality of the recording was superb, and I couldn’t have imagined it sounding any better!

The recording starts off with the classic Goodman feel of “He’ll Come as No Surprise”. Penned by Ronny Hinson and Marcia Henry, the fiddle/steel guitar intro with Howard leading the first verse and Vestal taking the second verse is classic Goodman! In one mighty chorus, all of creation resounded, “THEY’RE BACK!!!!” And for a brief moment, all was right in the world!

The old-time spiritual feel of “Able” follows, and once again Vestal blows it out of the ballpark. This is one of my favorite songs on the recording and is followed by the energetic, “Revival”, which was written by Rick Goodman and David Byerley. Filled with all the fervor of an old time campmeeting, it’s a highly invigorating number and one I’d love to hear someone bring back.

Sung in the spirit of so many of Rusty’s greatest performances from the 60’s and 70’s, he turns in a spectacular performance on “The Greatest Love Story”. Written by James Payne and Rick Goodman, though he had been through so much through his ordeal with cancer, Rusty never sounded better on this song and it’s truly a highlight of the recording.

Howard brings back one of my all-time favorite Goodman tunes from their early days, “Will the Lord Be With Me”. Howard is totally in the groove with this one, and it’s a highlight of the recording, as is Vestal’s striking performance on the Rusty Goodman penned masterpiece, “Standing in the Presence of the King”. I’ve always thought this was such a beautifully crafted piece of lyric, and proves that even late in life, Rusty was still a master craftsman.

Mimicking the sounds and feel of one of Wally Fowler’s “All Night Sings” from 1951, “Thank God I’m in His Care” starts with a vintage feel and it’s a cool intro to a classic number, which features both Howard and Vestal. It’s an enjoyable number and is a highlight of the recording.

The tempo slows down as Rusty sings a moving tune that he wrote with Terry Toler entitled “Shadow of the Steeple”. The Singing Americans had already recorded this song in 1989 and was enjoying success with it in the charts but hearing Rusty’s interpretation of his own lyric makes this particular rendition extra special.

With a signature Goodman steel guitar intro, we’re delighted with an outstanding rendition of the Ira Stanphill classic, “Mansion Over the Hilltop” before the tempo slows back down as Sam sings the simple song of praise, “Sweet Morning Song”, which is his only solo on the recording.

Rusty steps up one last time to deliver a very heartfelt performance on the Mike Murdock penned, “Lord, Paint my Mind”, before the tempo picks up for the final song, “Don’t Give Up”, which was written by Rick. Before the song winds down, we enjoy some wonderful back and forth banter by all 4 members of the group, before the music fades; a befitting closing for the recording and concludes a wonderful era of gospel music for me with a bittersweet ending.

Produced by Rick Goodman, the recording features a few people who, along with Rick, had been involved in the group from the past such as Johnny Minick, Harold Bradley, John Hughey, Steve Chandler and Tanya Goodman-Sykes. Ranging from recording engineer, musicians, and background vocals…these individuals knew how to create that Goodman magic again. In listening to this recording once again in preparation for this article, I realized “The Reunion” truly was all encompassing, as it embraced all the various musical styles the Goodman created through the years. From their earliest sounds from the 50’s and 60’s, we have “Will the Lord Be With Me” and “Thank God I’m in His Care”; From the early and mid-70’s, when the steel guitar and fiddle were prominent features in their sound, we have “He’ll Come as No Surprise”, “The Greatest Love Story” and “Mansion Over the Hilltop”. From the late 70’s when big arrangements, orchestrations, background vocals, etc. were the rage, we have “Able”, “Revival” and “Don’t Give Up”. Then we have those outstanding solo performances with “Standing in the Presence of the King”, “Shadow of the Steeple”, “Sweet Morning Song” and “Lord, Paint my Mind”. These semblances of their past all came together and created a beautiful tapestry highlighting their rich musical legacy and is truly a unique walk through time!

In closing, if you haven’t heard it, you need to get your hands on “The Reunion” radio special that was released in conjunction with this recording. It was an hour long special that was filled with wonderful stories you will never hear anywhere else, told by Howard, Sam, Rusty and Vestal, and of course, featured the songs from “The Reunion”. I had just started college at the end of August 1990, and I stayed up until after midnight in early September to listen to the local radio station as they aired the radio special. As I laid there in my dorm room in the dark, I drank in every word and song from that radio special. I couldn’t sleep that night as my mind relived all the wonderful stories and songs I had heard. My first trip home at the end of September, found me at our local Christian music store to pick up my copy of “The Reunion”. I was overjoyed! I felt as though I had discovered gold! And it was…it was pure gold to me!!

This wraps up my reviews of the Goodmans. I sincerely hope you enjoyed this walk through the wonderful music they made! Next week, we will start with the Hinsons as we go through each album by one of the most exciting country style groups to ever grace a stage!

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