The Rambos – The Real Thing (1970)

by James Hales | December 21, 2022 9:27 AM

A huge wave of success was forming for the Rambos, and this album (one song in particular) added tremendous momentum to that success. Dottie had proven herself as a songwriter with such hits and favorites like “He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need”, “When I Lift Up My Head”, “Come Spring”, “Sheltered in the Arms of God”, “If That Isn’t Love” and “The Holy Hills of Heaven”. The Rambos had proven themselves as being a showstopper and sure-fire ticket seller on the concert circuit as they were billed on the largest concerts across the nation, much to the delight of fans everywhere. They had won awards including a Grammy award for Dottie’s solo album “The Soul of Me”, and all this just added fuel to the fire of their immense success and further proved that the Rambos were indeed, “The Real Thing”, and not just some “flash in the pan” gospel act!

Produced again by Bob MacKenzie, with orchestrations arranged by Jim Hall, the album has a very similar feel to “This is my Valley”, along with a few unique elements thrown in for good measure. Just like their last album, Dottie penned 6 tunes, but on this latest album, Reba contributed 2 songs. Also like “This is my Valley, the album features a “gatefold” cover, and when you open it up, you find a nice sized full-color portrait of the Rambos, drawn by Mike Sloan, which totally contrasts the dark front cover.

The recording starts with the classic Dottie Rambo song, “Build My Mansion (Next Door to Jesus)”. Featuring Dottie and filled with beautiful orchestral embellishments, it became one of their biggest hit songs, spending almost 30 months (yes, you read that right) in the Singing News Top 20 chart between 1970 and 1973, peaking at the #2 spot in January and February of 1972. As soon as the Rambos version of the song was falling off the chart, Jimmy Swaggart enjoyed a good run in the charts with his version of the song, which was quite a bit different from the Rambos’ version. Paired with “Mansion Over the Hilltop”, Swaggart’s version had a distinct campmeeting flare to it, which truly set it apart from the Rambos. Also worth mentioning, Reba recorded a really nice rendition of the song on her 1971 solo album, “Songs my Mama Taught Me, Sung the Way I Feel Them”, which, as the title alludes to, is a collection of some of Dottie’s songs, sung “Reba style”.

The beautifully written, “Promises” follows and is filled with that distinct Rambo harmony with Buck and Reba switching parts within the song and it’s a wonderful reminder that all of God’s promises are true, before the tempo picks up for the upbeat, “I Won’t Ask for More”, which features Dottie. Accented by strings and brass, it’s an invigorating number and it’s one of my favorites from the recording, and no doubt was a fun song to sing in concert.

Reba penned the nicely orchestrated, “Over the Mountain”, which slows the tempo back down and is a beautifully done ballad, which has Dottie taking the lead. One of my favorites from the recording, the song bares that distinct Rambo sound with brilliant harmonies and it’s a wonderful encouragement to not give up and press on because Heaven is just in view.

Elmer Mercer penned the pensively nostalgic, “I Can’t Go Home Again”, which easily recalls the early sound of the Rambos just a few short years before. Featuring some nice guitar work, the song has a country/folk feel to it and leads perfectly into the Bud Chambers penned tune, “Exactly What I Need”. Featuring Reba and Buck at the beginning, about mid-way through the song, Dottie steps in for a soulful and emotion filled performance. This is one of those songs that changes the pace and mood as the song moves along, and it’s one of my favorites from this recording. The best part of the song is when the music stops and Dottie belts out, “He knows…He knows…He knows exactly what I need!”; that right there is the real thing!

With its dramatic opening orchestral score, “Don’t Take Jesus” gets side 2 underway and it’s one of my favorites from the recording. I don’t think the opening of the song really matches the overall feel of the song, but it definitely gets your attention before the song takes on an easy going feel with some really nice harmony, which leads perfectly into “Today is Tomorrow’s Yesterday”. This medium tempo country sounding tune, which features the steel guitar, is a uniquely worded song reminding you to cherish the treasure of “today”, but also beckons the lost to come know Christ before it’s eternally too late.

The tempo picks up slightly for the bouncy feel of the Joe Hatfield classic, “Gettin’ Ready Today”. The Downings had a great run with the song with their lively rendition, but here, the Rambo’s put their own spin on the song, providing a more laid-back version, contrasting the Downings very exciting rendition (which is actually one of my favorite songs by the Downings).

The tempo slows back down for the Walt Mills penned, “When God Gathers Us Home”, which features Buck and Reba, before Buck steps up for a solo (with background vocals) on the sentimental, “Don’t Wish the Good Times Away”. A tender sentiment written by Dottie, the song is a special tune that would hold a special place in the heart of any parent.

The recording ends with the Reba Rambo/Kenny Parker collaboration entitled, “A Long, Long Line”. Featuring Reba, it’s one of the most unusual songs the Rambos had recorded up to this point and it reminds us that “it’s appointed unto man once to die, and after death he must face the judgement”. Featuring the modern sounds of the day with a pulsating beat and heavy guitar embellishments, the song is a warning to those who have heard the gospel, but have turned away from it.

Like I stated at the beginning, this album has a similar feel to “This is my Valley”, and again (like “This is my Valley”), while it does include some excellent songs (including one massive hit song), it doesn’t rank as one of my all-time favorite Rambo albums. I think both “The Real Thing” and “This is my Valley” were a bit of a transitional time for the Rambos, as the music scene was changing from the popular sounds of the 60s to the new sounds that were emerging in the late 60s and early 70s. The Rambos were always on the cutting edge of the music scene and were one of Southern Gospel’s most progressive groups. I think during this time, they were in the process of redefining who they were musically, and proving they were indeed, the real thing!

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