by James Hales | December 7, 2022 9:54 AM
With the huge success of “The Soul Singing Rambos”, it was almost imperative that a new album be released as soon as possible. In fact, they released 3 more albums in 1968; Dottie’s Grammy Award winning solo album, “It’s the Soul of Me”, Reba’s premier solo album, “On the Folk Side of Gospel” and finally, this beautifully crafted album entitled, “An Evening with the Singing Rambos”. Contrary to the title, this was not a live album but rather a beautifully orchestrated studio album, which included more than just strings, but also included woodwinds, which created a beautiful sound that was perfectly suited for some of the songs on this album, 7 of which that were written by Dottie.
The album was produced by the 2 Bobs (Benson and MacKenzie), but no credit is given as to who played on the album. My assumption is Jim Hall is providing orchestral arrangements, since he has done so on their previous 3 Heartwarming albums, and with each successive album the orchestrations are taken up a notch. One observation I’d like to mention is that some of the songs on this album took a decidedly country feel, and whoever played piano on this album had the touch of Floyd Cramer, which really lent itself to that country sound. Kenny Parker had joined the group as pianist at this point, and he had a style of playing that was very similar to Floyd Cramer, who was famous for the “slip note” piano style. I am unsure if Kenny or possibly Pig Robbins, Bill Pursell or maybe even Floyd Cramer himself was playing piano on the album, but whoever it was, they did a great job. Overall, the music tracks are splendidly executed and provided a wonderful bed for the vocals and lyrics to rest and paint a beautiful masterpiece for the listener to appreciate.
Sung over a gorgeously orchestrated track, Dottie and Reba trade solos on the album’s opening number, “As Long As You Walk With Me”. Dottie penned these words as a love song to the Lord…”Walk with me, talk with me, be every breath I breathe, know every road I take, lest I should make a mistake, I want to know Thy way and I want to go Thy way, Lord hear me when I pray, Lord…I want You to walk with me”. I was so captivated by this song as a kid, and it ranks as one of my all-time favorite Dottie Rambo songs. This song is pure ear candy to me and is a wonderful prayer in song.
The tempo picks up for another one of my all-time favorites, “Big, Big Man”. This lighthearted number is such a fun song and truly showcases how Dottie can create such serious songs like the first song, and then turn right around and deliver such a carefree number like this one. Much like the first song, I love the harmonies of Dottie and Reba on this song, and the strings just added a nice touch to this captivating and exciting number.
Buck steps up next to sing the first verse, while Reba takes the second verse on the Rusty Goodman classic, “Had it Not Been” before the tempo is kicked back up for the upbeat country feel of, “I’m Gonna Leave Here Shoutin’”. Inspired by the same grandfather who inspired “My Heart Can See” and “I Just Came to Talk With You Lord”, the song features Buck on the verses with Dottie delivering the goods on the chorus. I imagine this was an exciting song to sing in their concerts back in the day and I wish they had included this song on their 1971 live album. Dottie brought this song back on her 2003 solo recording, “Stand By the River”, and enjoyed some success with her updated version of the song.
Reba does a wonderful job on the folk sounding “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown”, a song I have adored since I was a kid, before Buck takes the lead on the classic Dottie Rambo tune, “The Holy Hills of Heaven”, which closes out this side. One of the most beautifully written depictions of what transpires when a soul takes flight, I have always loved the chorus and the vivid picture it paints…“this house of flesh is but a prison, bars of bone hold my soul, but the doors of clay will burst wide open, when the angel sets my spirit free, I’ll take my flight like a mighty eagle, when the hills of Home start calling me”. The song was recorded by numerous groups back in the day including the Oak Ridge Boys, Downings, Orrells, and my personal favorite, the Happy Goodman Family. Vestal Goodman also did a wonderful rendition on the Goodmans’ 2000 release, “Set Your Sails”, as did the Perrys on their 2007 recording, “Look No Further”. The song was still quite popular 2 years after the release of this album as the Rambos briefly charted their version for a couple of months in the fall of 1970, peaking in the Top 10.
With its wailing dobro intro, side 2 starts off with the sentimental and folk sounding, “Where Did All the Good Folks Go”, which recalls the very early sounds of the Rambos when they first started. The song offers glimpses into their personal lives, as the song makes references to special memories and people in their lives before the tempo slows down for the Elmer Mercer classic, “He Cared That Much For Me”, featuring a fervent performance by Dottie.
Reba sings the modern folk sounding, “God, You Never Cried”, which was quite progressive for its time. Depicting the humanity of God, this was Reba’s first composition recorded by the group and, as par for the course being a young teenage songwriter, was one of their early forays into different sounds and unique lyrical content. The beautifully orchestrated, “If I Were My Brother”, with its retrospective perspective, features Buck and falls along the same line as the previous song. While Buck is strictly a country gospel singer, this song really worked for him, and I think it’s one of his best vocal performances. Both songs were squarely outside the box, musically and lyrically for Southern Gospel, as both songs colored outside the lines of the norm for the genre. Trailblazers that they were, I feel that with these two songs, the Rambos gave us a glimpse into what early CCM music would sound like, as it would become a force within gospel music very soon and over time, those contemporary sounds would start infiltrating the Rambo sound more and more.
Featuring harmonica accents as well as some Floyd Cramer style piano licks, “Where Will You Be”, which features Buck, asks the pertinent question only the listener can truthfully answer, “where will you be a million years from now?”. The Oak Ridge Boys also did a splendid job with their version of the song on their “New Horizons” album, which was released around the same time as this album.
The album closes out with another classic Rambo tune, “Too Much To Gain To Lose”, which has been recorded numerous times by such artists as the Dixie Echoes, Florida Boys, Greater Vision, Jake Hess, Talleys and my personal favorite version by Tony Gore & Majesty, which they recorded on their premier release, “Cool Clear Water”, back in 1994.
As already mentioned, Kenny Parker had joined the group as pianist, as Darrius Spurgeon had vacated that position. Kenny would only stay for about 3 years before striking out on his own with his family group, the Kenny Parker Trio, but his unique style of playing was as big a part of the Rambos style as anything else at the time. He had a wonderful touch to the piano and his style could be compared to that of Floyd Cramer, with that “slip note” playing.
This was one of the initial albums I grew up listening to and it’s still one of my all-time favorites. I love the overall feel of this album…it’s very warm and inviting. Given the title, “An Evening with the Singing Rambos”, it’s an album I can easily see someone taking out of the cover, slipping it onto the turntable and listening by a warm crackling fire, relaxing and basking in the warmth of the fire and the music contained within the grooves of this album.
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