by James Hales | December 28, 2022 8:06 AM
1971 was a very busy and exciting year for the Rambos. The group released 3 albums that year, and both Dottie and Reba released solo albums as well, so that makes 5 albums released in the course of a year’s time! In addition to their own busy touring schedule and television appearances, the group was part of a national tour with the Oak Ridge Boys and JD Sumner & the Stamps called Festival USA. On this tour, each group sang their individual sets and then on the second half they performed a play called “The Three Nails”. They even released an album of the play which was recorded live in Louisville, Kentucky. That album is a rare find and I am so glad I was finally able to add it to my personal collection earlier this year!
To start off the new year, the group released, “Soul Classics”, an album filled with big production. Despite the solemn look on their faces, I always thought this was a cool cover shot of the group. Produced by Bob MacKenzie and orchestrations provided by Jim Hall, this album featured a big sound with lots of strings, woodwinds and horns, and it was very different than any of their previous albums. Most of the more progressive groups at the time were using lots of strings and horns on their recordings such as the Downings, Speers, Imperials, Orrells, Lanny Wolfe Trio, etc., and with the Rambos constantly on the cusp of progression, they naturally followed suit, and this album was an excellent representation of that. With 10 songs baring Dottie’s name, the album featured a wide range of styles and topics, and it ranks as one of my most favorite albums by the Rambos.
The album starts off with one of my all-time favorite Dottie Rambo tunes, “In the Valley (He Restoreth My Soul)”. The song spent about 9 months in the Singing News Top 20, peaking at #4 in June 1971. Featuring lush orchestrations, it’s one of the most descriptive songs written about valley times, “it’s dark as a dungeon and the sun seldom shines, and I question why must this be, then He tells me there’s strength in my sorrow and there’s victory in trials for me”. The song offers hope that there is victory in the valley, and through the years it has resonated with listeners and is one of Dottie’s best known “valley songs”. Buck stated numerous times through the years that although the song was never a #1 song, it was a #1 song to him. The Hoskins Family did an outstanding job with their rendition of the song on their 2000 recording, “Hope”, as Angie Hoskins did a magnificent job making the song her own.
The tempo picks up for the exciting, “No Lock on My Mansion Door” which offers a unique perspective on what Heaven will be like. It’s not one of Dottie’s most remembered songs, but I always loved the song and its message. The Bishops, a highly popular group during the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s, did a really great rendition of this song on their first national recording in 1985 called, “One Way”.
In keeping with the Heaven theme, the tempo slows down for the song, “Eternity will be Long Enough”. Having a whimsical feel to it, the song features Buck on the verses and has Reba taking the lead on the chorus.
The Jack Campbell classic, “Oh What a Happy Day” picks the tempo back up, and it was a highly popular number for the Rambos. The song spent well over a year in the Singing News chart, peaking at #2 in July and August 1971 and remained a concert favorite for the Rambos for several years. In fact, the Rambos ended up recording the song on 2 separate live albums, where their performance of the song was quite a bit more lively than what is displayed on this album.
The chilling, “The Ringing of the Hammer” is one of my favorites from this recording. Written by Dottie and Reba, and featuring Buck and Dottie, it’s a haunting and convicting song depicting our daily betrayal of Jesus by our actions (and non-action). The sound effect of the hammer striking the nail throughout the song further drives home the impactful message in the song.
Rounding out this side, Reba steps up to sing “How Many Rivers”, which has that unique “Rambo Country” feel to it. Sometimes the Christian walk can be long and hard, and sometimes our prayers are like this song…“every mountain that I climb seems higher, every valley that I walk looks longer, every river that I cross gets wider, how many rivers will I cross before I’m home”. It’s an honest song and it’s one of my favorites from this album, and Reba does a great job singing it.
Dottie and Reba collaborated on writing the nostalgic, “Mama Always Had a Song”, and the song was a big concert favorite for the Rambos. Despite the horns and strings, the song features Buck and has a country feel to it. Towards the end of the song, Dottie cuts loose and the song does take on a more soulful feel at that point. It’s a song Dottie could really sink her teeth into in a live setting, and you definitely hear it in their live album which was released later on in 1971; but more about that next week! I grew up hearing the version from their live album and didn’t hear this version until some time back in the late 80s. I love the studio version as much as I love the live version. Both versions had a different feel to it, but I loved them both just the same.
The folk feel of the haunting, “Who’s Gonna Teach my Children’s Children?” is a highlight of the album. Musically and lyrically, this was a very different song for the Rambos, and it was a stark reminder that, in the midst of all the social issues that were rampant across the country and the world at the time, it is the innocent children that we needed to remember and keep safe. Dottie recorded a very passionate rendition of this song on her solo album, “Heartprints”, which was released later in 1971.
The tempo picks up for the Walt Mills penned, “Runnin’ Free”, which features some nice orchestral flourishes throughout the song. Soon after this album was released, Walt included the song on his first solo album with Heartwarming Records entitled, “It’s Jesus That They Need”.
Slowing the pace back down, Buck and Reba sing the humbling poetic number, “Don’t it Make You Feel Little”, which reminds us just how small we really are and how great and mighty God is. The chorus pulls all the verses together when it states, “everything He made remains sweet and beautiful, that is except you and me, the one thing God made in His likeness and image, somehow seemed destined to fall, and God knew it would be in His blood shed on Calvary, to ever redeem us…don’t it make you feel little, don’t it make you feel small”. The song features some of that inverted harmony the Rambos were known for and was a wonderful inclusion for this album.
Starting out slow, Dottie takes her time delivering the first verse on the soulful, “Somebody Stepped on Board”, before the tempo picks up at the chorus. This is such a fun song and is one of my favorites from this record. Featuring lots of brass embellishments, it’s one of those tunes that will get stuck in your head for days on end!
Closing things out, the poetic, “Goin’ Toward the Setting of the Sun” is the perfect “swansong” for this album. This reflective song encourages the Christian to press on and “hasten toward the setting of the sun”. It’s not one of Dottie’s most remembered songs, but I’ve always thought it was a brilliant lyric.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this was an exciting and busy time for the Rambos, and this album reflected that bustle and excitement perfectly. I fell in love with this album the first time I heard it back in the late 80s. I grew up hearing several of these songs on their forthcoming live album, so getting to hear the studio versions of some of those songs was a real treat for me. As a fan of orchestrations, I loved that aspect of this album because the added strings and brass really enhanced each song perfectly. In their next several studio albums, the strings and horns weren’t as prominent as they were on this album, but they would return in the late 70s as their style became more progressive and sophisticated.
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