It’s been 3 years since the Rambos released their first live album and a lot has changed in that relatively short span of time. With a renewed commitment to provide a more evangelistic approach to their music and devoting more of their time ministering in churches, this live album has a very different feel than their last one, as it’s actually recorded live in a church. The album was recorded during the Rambos appearance at Soul’s Harbor, a church in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Not exactly a hot bed for Southern Gospel music, but they obviously loved the Rambos!) The album has the feel of a lively church service rather than a recorded concert performance. The atmosphere is a bit more relaxed here, as the Rambos take their time and really involve themselves with the music and with the people.
Another big difference between the 2 live recordings, is that by this time, the Rambos have their own stage band. Musicians appearing with the Rambos here are Jack Vandiver on piano, Wendell Jimerson picking the bass, Ernie Harris on drums, James Lowery playing guitar (Lowry also played for the Downings for a time as well), Johnny Cox on steel guitar and Carolyn McMillan playing the violin. As far as I know, the Rambos are the only group that employed a violin player. I am not familiar with most of the band members the Rambos employed throughout the remainder of their time on the road, but I do know a constant figure for the remainder of the 70s was Wendell Jimerson, as he would often be a back-up singer for the Rambos, and he also assisted with some production aspects of their records. So, we’ll see his name pop-up from time to time going forward. A couple of other notable names that were eventually a part of the Rambos band are David Huntsinger, who came along around 1976 to play piano and Gary Chapman who came along later in the 70’s to play guitar. Huntsinger went on to work in the Contemporary field playing and arranging music for artists such as Sandi Patti, Larnelle Harris and Steve Green, and also worked on choral projects and musicals as well, including Dottie’s highly popular children’s musical, “Down By the Creekbank”, which was released in 1978. Chapman went on to become a popular country/gospel singer/musician/songwriter as well as a TV host on the Nashville Network.
Speaking of their band, around the same time this live album was released, the Rambos recorded a hymns album entitled, “Softly & Tenderly”. The album was released independently from the Benson Company and featured the Rambos singing classic hymns backed by their band. It’s a great album and the Rambos, as well as their band, did a tremendous job bringing those hymns to life.
After a brief introduction, the Rambos hit the stage with a rollicking performance of “Oh What a Happy Day” before Buck introduces the classic, “Ten Thousand Years”. This is such a dynamic performance from Dottie’s delivery of the second verse, Reba’s extremely long cascading note to the exciting build up to the ending…you can’t beat this live performance with a stick and it’s one of my all-time favorite live performances, ever! Songs like this is what make live albums so awesome!
After a brief and rather comical intro by Buck, the pace picks back up for a lively performance of their hit song, “March Around the Throne One Time For Me”. Coming around for an encore, Dottie slows the tempo way down as she takes her time with the second verse, before the band kicks back in for a rousing finish. Dottie exudes charisma and excitement on this song and it’s a fantastic and enthusiastic performance by everyone.
Next, Dottie takes a few moments to introduce a new song that she wrote just for Soul’s Harbor called, “Harbor in the Time of Storm”. Using water imagery, it’s a fantastic song that made its way onto their next studio album which came out in 1975. It’s an exciting performance and the crowd obviously enjoyed the song as they do an encore before this side is done.
Flipping the album over to side 2, Buck shares some comical insight growing up in a small town and in a small, rural church before Reba sings their unique arrangement of “Amazing Grace” (it sounds to me like a couple of band members join her on the song, as it does not sound like Buck and Dottie are singing with her) before the group tears into a medley of 12 Dottie Rambo classics including “Sheltered in the Arms of God”, “Too Much to Gain to Lose”, “When I Lift Up My Head”, “The Holy Hills of Heaven”, “Remind Me, Dear Lord”, “If That Isn’t Love”, “I Just Came to Talk with You Lord”, “The Church Triumphant”, “One More Valley”, “Mama’s Teaching Angels How to Sing”, “Build my Mansion” and concludes with a dramatic performance of “He Looked Beyond My Fault”. The suspense builds as Dottie takes her time getting into the chorus, and the song comes to a mighty crescendo at the end and the audience demands an encore and Dottie takes off again singing the line, “I shall forever…” over and over again as she feels her way through, adlibbing the words before it all comes to a head and just explodes like a bomb all over again. Overall, the medley is a good effort, but it feels very disjointed to me. The Rambos would employ the use of a medley once more about 9 years later, on their “Memories Made New” album in 1983, and it would be a much better presentation than this particular medley on this live album. I can’t wait to dive into that album and medley in a few weeks!
As we start side 3, we are treated to two rousing performances of the up-tempo songs “Ain’t it Good News” and “Running My Last Mile Home”. Both songs highlight the excellent musicianship of the band and I love Buck’s improvised line in the latter mentioned song where he sings, “they’re singing a new song Dottie never wrote before”!
Buck slows things down as he introduces Reba’s masterpiece, “Precious Jesus”, which the group does a phenomenal job singing, before Buck shares his homespun stories of growing up and the love he has for his mom before singing, “The Touch of Mama’s Hand”, which Dottie had written in honor of his mom.
I have always loved this portion of the live album where Buck tells little stories about what it’s like being married to Dottie Rambo and the questions he gets asked by the fans, and it is the perfect set-up for the classic song, “New Shoes”. Dottie gives a fantastic energetic performance before she and the band break into a spirited rendition of “I’ll Fly Away”. As the song moves along, each member of the band gets a chance to shine and it’s a highlight of the recording. The spirit is contagious, and you too will find yourself smiling and tapping or clapping along with the song!
As things begin to wind down, the last side slows the overall tempo of the recording down as it starts with sort of an impromptu performance of “Tears Will Never Stain the Streets of that City”. Although the song was very new and quite possibly not even finished yet, Dottie only sings the first verse of the song as the group joins her on the chorus for a couple of run throughs before Dottie invites the audience to sing along. You can feel the emotion in the song as Dottie sings the song and it’s a very special moment caught on tape.
Next the group turns in an excellent performance on the song, “Until He Comes”. Before the song is over, sensing a quiet spirit of worship, Dottie leads the audience in a few moments of worship before the song ends and then as Dottie keeps the spirit moving, renders an emotion filled performance of the classic, “How Great Thou Art”, with the audience joining in on the chorus. The group continues the spirit of worship as they close things out by leading the audience in singing “Bless His Holy Name/Holy, Holy”. As the music fades out, it’s all over before you know it.
There is a strong spirit of worship and praise that is found on this live album, especially during the last portion of it. Unlike most live albums, it was more than just a performance; it was interactive, it was fun and it was worshipful. I will mention that from a personal perspective, I would have loved to have heard live performances of such songs as “It Will Pass”, “Sailing Toward Home”, “He Changed My Tears to Showers of Blessings” or “Resting in the Arms of a Never Failing God”, but I digress. As I mentioned earlier, when you are comparing this live album with their last one, you can definitely hear…and feel…the focal shift in their music and ministry. There is a more evangelical feel with this live album, and with it being recorded in a church, it just adds to the spiritual ambiance of the recording. It’s a very relaxed live recording and is one you can put on your turntable, turn down the lights and you feel like you’re spending the evening with the Rambos.
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