This album has always been sort of an enigma to me, and it’s my least favorite Hinson album. I don’t think the Hinsons, or their record company, really knew what direction they wanted to go with this album. In fact, the album wasn’t even released on Calvary Records, it was released on Life Stream Records, which was the more contemporary arm for Calvary Records. Produced by Ronnie Drake (who would eventually go on and jump start Daywind Records) and production assistance being provided again by Hinson pianist, Gary Prim, it’s an odd mix of styles and sounds, and the album just doesn’t come together as a true cohesive sounding recording, in my opinion.
The album is sporting an unassuming wine-colored cover with no picture of the group on the front or the back. From a production perspective, it’s a big production recording with strings and brass and a vast array of musicians including 3 keyboard/piano players (including their own Gary Prim) and 6 guitar players! Typically, when you see more than one or two musicians playing the same instrument on a recording, it’s a sign the music tracks were recorded over the course of multiple days over an extended period of time, rather than in just a couple of consecutive days (which is the norm for most Southern Gospel recordings). Despite the wide range of styles, intertwined throughout the recording are some really great moments; in fact, 7 songs from this album charted in the Top 40 (albeit, most very briefly), with only 2 songs making it into the Top 10. Interestingly, this is the very first Hinson album that contains all Hinson material. There are 4 songs written by Ronny and 3 each by Kenny and Larry. Up until this point, they have always included at least one song that was either Public Domain or written by someone else. So, essentially this would be the very first exclusively Hinson album…true to the title, it’s a “Song Vineyard” of Hinson tunes.
With Chris’ departure from the group earlier in the year, this would be Yvonne’s first album with the group since their 1973 album, “We Promise You Gospel”. Yvonne and Chris had very different voices, thereby giving the Hinsons’ sound a totally different texture and feel. The Hinsons were very blessed to have 2 very distinct and powerful female voices to fill that vocal spot. Each lady allowed the group to have tremendous versatility within their sound, and both ladies made their own indelible mark in the Hinson legacy. With that said, over the course of the last 6 or 7 years, the Hinsons garnered a ton of fans…many of which may not have been familiar with the group prior to Chris joining them in 1974, so this album was their first introduction to Yvonne, and Yvonne’s voice did change their sound; but most folks quickly fell in love with Yvonne and her gentle, quiet spirit and big voice. While I was (and always will be) a huge Chris fan, and a fan of that particular era of the Hinsons, I always found that Yvonne’s features were a bright spot on all their records going forward, and after I met her that night in November 1986, I became an even bigger fan.
The album starts off with the up-tempo, harmonica/electric guitar driven, “Shinin’ In”, which features both Kenny and Larry. Written by Larry, it’s an invigorating number that did well on the charts for the group, peaking at #7 in July 1981. It appears Chris was still with the group in the early stages of working on songs for this album, as there is a video clip on You Tube of her with the group singing this song. I’m not sure where in the process of recording this album Chris left the group, but it’s neat hearing what the Hinsons would have sounded like had she stayed on.
Kenny slows the tempo down a bit for the country feel of “Better Than New”. Written by Kenny, the song charted only one month in February 1981 at #28. Accented very nicely with strings, it’s a really great song and one of my favorites from this album.
Kicking off with the feel of a mainstream country song, Ronny sings the upbeat, brass infused, “Til the World Can’t Tell Us Apart”, which is one of the few songs Ronny sings the melody all the way through. Previously, most songs that feature Ronny on the verses, has Kenny taking the lead on the chorus, so this song was a bit of a departure from the norm…both vocally and musically! The song almost has a Beatles feel to it, especially towards the end of the song. It also sounds like background vocalists are assisting the Hinsons on the song as well.
With a nice twin fiddle intro, “Till the Land” is next, and it is an absolute gem and the true triumph from this album. This song was the biggest hit from this album, spending over a year in the charts, peaking at #7 for several months during 1981. Kenny and Larry do a tremendous job on the song and it’s one of my all-time favorite Hinson tunes. This is another song that is on You Tube with Chris singing with the group, albeit that particular version was quite a bit slower than what is recorded for this album. The tempo they went with for this album is perfect, and I am glad they picked up the pace before laying this song down for the album. I think this song would have been a wonderful inclusion on their 1984 live album, “Lift the Roof Off”.
The up-tempo, “Land of Victory” rounds out this side, and it has that classic Hinson feel to it, as does the first song on side two, “Since the Comforter Came Down”, which was written by and features Larry. With the feel of an old campmeeting tune, the song fared pretty decently in the charts, peaking at #21 in February 1981. Both of these tunes have Yvonne taking the lead on the last chorus, and it recalls the sound and feel of their early days.
The laid-back country feel of, “Come on Back”, has that classic mainstream country sound. Kenny does a great job on his song, which only spent one month on the chart. It appears the group doesn’t sing with him on the song, as he is joined by a group of background vocalists, who aren’t credited in the liner notes of the album.
Disco sounds abound on Larry’s song, “He Makes a World of Difference”, which charted for one month, coming in at #33. Featuring Kenny and Larry (these 2 did quite a few songs together on this album), the song starts out slow, but picks up speed as the disco ball drops when they get down to the chorus. This song is so far from the Hinson sound, it doesn’t even sound like them!
The whimsical “Teach ‘em How to Pray” has a bit of a novelty feel to it, and is Yvonne’s only feature on this album. Featuring a nicely orchestrated track, the song has a great message reminding us the importance of teaching our kids how to pray.
“It All Still Amazes Me” is another novelty tune, but it’s a fun, rollicking number with bluegrass undertones, (banjo, dobro, fiddle, harmonica) and it barely made it into the Top 40, coming in at #39 in January 1981. It’s a cleverly written song penned by and featuring Kenny, and it’s highly invigorating and closes out this wild ride of an album!
It appears that with “Song Vineyard”, the Hinsons wanted to try out as many styles and sounds as possible, and I think that in the process of doing that, they kinda lost themselves. They were in the middle of changes within the group and influenced by changes within gospel music itself and both (the Hinsons and gospel music) were trying to re-define themselves, creatively. “Prime” was such a wonderful example of stretching themselves creatively, and I think they may have gone overboard with “Song Vineyard”, and that doesn’t make this a bad album by any means. Think of it like this…just as it is with some of your favorite foods, you like them prepared a certain way. While some tweaking of the ingredients is perfectly fine, if you mess with it too much, it doesn’t taste the same or as good as it used to. Eventually the Hinsons tamed things down a bit, and for another 8 years or so, consistently put out some truly spectacular music, as their vineyard of songs continued to prosper and grow fertile fruit.
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James, fantastic as always. It’s interesting to look back at a record through the lens of decades beyond. Gospel music has gone through many cycles since then, and it’s fascinating to revisit recordings from the perspective of the 2020s. I appreciate the honesty, the historic nuggets (chart positions, who wrote the songs, etc) that you bring to the table. Many thanks, too, for honoring these groups by assessing and appreciating their body of work via these reviews.
Thank you Robin!