“There has to be a song. There are too many dark nights, too many troublesome days and too many wearisome miles, there has to be a song. To make our burdens bearable, to make our hopes believable, to transform our successes into praise. Somewhere, down deep in a forgotten corner of each man’s heart, there has to be a song. Like a cool, clear drink of water, there has to be a song.”
Those words I have quoted above, is an excerpt from a poem titled, “There Has To Be a Song”, are penned by Bob Benson, and are found on the back of this album. If there was ever a “mission statement” for the Rambos, that would be it. Through Dottie’s pen (as well as Reba’s), we’ve been gifted a glimpse into their hearts as they provided us songs for the journey and songs that are deeply rooted in spiritual truths to help us walk down some of these long, dark roads. Gordon Jensen wrote a song entitled, “Leave a Well in the Valley”, and as that song states, the Rambos have collectively left a well in the valley for all who come through that dark and lonely place, so that we may also take a drink from the cup of gladness and joy. This album is a beautiful well in the valley!
After about 8 years and 13 albums, a new producer is at the helm for this latest album; a young singer/songwriter named Phil Johnson. It appears that around late 1974/early 1975, Bob MacKenzie had stepped out of his role producing for the Benson Company. Bob was a genius and was a big part of the wonderful music that the Benson Company put out during the early and mid-70’s. But the tide was changing on the music scene and the Rambos were changing with it. The album features 12 musicians (including their bass player Wendell Jimerson, who also provides some vocal support as well) along with those playing strings, which were arranged by Joe Huffman and Ronn Huff. While their last studio album, “Yours, Until He Comes”, was very progressive and diverse, this latest studio album has a more country vibe to it. Given the cover shot, it does give that feel from the get-go. With 5 songs written by Dottie and 1 written by Reba, this was the first of 2 albums that were released in 1975, and the difference between the two are as far apart as night is from day!
The album starts off with the energetic country flavor of, “He’s Ready to Come, I’m Ready to Go”, written by Gene Reasoner (songwriter of one of my all-time favorite songs, “He Didn’t Throw the Clay Away”). Even though there were 2 resident songwriters in the group, the Rambos always seemed to be on the lookout for new songs and new songwriters, so being interested in the backstory with how the Rambos found this particular gem, I reached out to Gene Reasoner and discovered this remarkable story…back in the 70s there was a popular passion play called, “Shepherd of the Hills” in the Branson, Missouri area, and from time to time they would have groups come in and sing. After the Rambos’ appearance there one night, a friend of Gene’s, who was the director of the play, encouraged him to let the Rambos hear his song. So, after the concert, they gathered around the piano (Dottie sitting on one side of the piano bench, Reba sitting on the other and Buck standing by the piano…not intimidating at all right?) and Gene played and sung his song for them. They loved the song and Dottie challenged him to write a new chorus, which he did, and the group went on to record it and it was the lead off song for their concerts for the next couple of years. The song was a popular one for the group, charting during the latter half of 1975 and into 1976, peaking at #5 in September 1975. The LeFevres also did a great job on the song on their 1975 album, “Experience the LeFevres”.
The tempo slows down for the haunting melody of “Now You Can Walk With Me”, which features Dottie on the first verse and Buck and Reba on the second verse. Featuring those unique harmonies that put the Rambos on the map, the song puts a unique spin on the idea of walking in the steps of the Savior, and gives caution to those who choose to follow the Master, “if you follow in His footsteps, they’ll lead you by the cross, so be sure before you start friend, you’ve counted the cost, but when you’ve burned all those bridges, ‘til there’s no looking back to see, then you will hear Him whisper, now you can walk with me”.
Keeping things in slow mode, Reba is featured on her own composition, “By His Love Possessed”. Featuring the Rambos bass player, Wendell Jimerson playing the saxophone, it’s the most progressive tune on the album. It took me a few years to really get into this song, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to really appreciate the sheer beauty that is found in its contemporary lyric and stunning melody.
Featuring the guitar, steel and harmonica, Buck sings the country tinged, “Jesus”. This unassuming tune has that old Rambo sound, which makes sense since they recorded it on their very first album, “Draw Me Near”. I love the old-time country feel of the song and it’s one of my personal favorites from this album.
With Dottie taking the first verse, Reba singing the second verse and Buck taking the lead on the chorus, the group does a really great job on the Phil Johnson classic tune, “Give Them All to Jesus”. This was a hugely popular song for the Imperials during the mid and late 70s, and though Dottie didn’t write the song, she very well could have, and they sing it like the own it, and is a great finish for the first side. Though it’s been recorded numerous times by different artists over the years, the Rambo’s version of the song is my personal favorite version.
With the now familiar strains of the electric and steel guitar, side 2 starts out with the classic, “Tears will Never Stain the Streets of that City”, which is the crowning jewel of this album. The Rambos already introduced the song on their previous live album released in 1974, where they only sang the chorus and first verse, but on this album, we hear the song in its entirety, and it became one of Dottie’s best loved songs. Spending almost 2 years in the charts, the song stalled at the #2 spot and stayed there for 7 months, never quite making it to #1 due to 2 other songs, “What a Beautiful Day” by the Happy Goodmans and “Jesus is Mine” by the Inspirations. The song has been recorded numerous times over the years including the Inspirations, Jimmie Davis, Florida Boys, Blackwood Brothers, Perrys (they did a phenomenal live performance on their 1990 live album, “Little Thunder-Live in Alabama”) and most recently by the Freemans on their 2017 recording, “Tower of Song”, where Reba joined them on the song.
The tempo picks up for “Harbor in the Time of Storm”, which features banjos, fiddles, dobro and steel guitar and is a highlight of the record. Like “Tears will Never Stain”, this song was also introduced on their “Live and Alive at Soul’s Harbor” album from 1974, and the song doesn’t stray far from the original live cut.
Walt Mills contributed his masterpiece “Shattered Dreams”, which features both Buck and Reba. This medium tempo song has that identifiable country sound the Rambos were known for, and it leads perfectly into, “Another Mountain, Another Valley”. A testimony song for Dottie, she does a great job belting out this raw, country sounding tune, featuring a thumping bass and a dancing steel guitar.
Closing out the album is the classic and beautifully orchestrated, “I Call Him Lord”. Their last 2 studio albums ended with some type of worship medley, but for this album, Dottie wrote her own song of praise, and the song has become a worship staple, as well as a Christmas classic. The song has been recorded countless times over the years by such artists as the Greenes, Primitive Quartet, Ruppes and Collingsworth Family, but my favorites are by Janet Paschal from her live recording during her days with the Jimmy Swaggart organization back in the 80’s, and Mark Lowry (backed by LordSong), who delivered an excellent version on his 2003 release, “Some Things Never Change”. Another version I enjoy is by the Gethsemane Quartet, which is the first version of the song I ever heard as a kid. The song never grows old and never fails to usher in a spirit of worship wherever and whenever it is sung.
With only 2 up-tempo songs, the album is a bit more slower paced than their last few albums had been. While it is more country/southern gospel than their last studio album, there are some unique aspects with this album such as Wendell Jimerson providing some extra vocal support on a few songs. The extra vocals he provides is very subtle, but you will hear it a bit more out front on their next album. Looking ahead at their remaining albums, this would be their last fully Southern/Country gospel style album, as their sound would continue to evolve over the remainder of the 70’s as they explore new sounds and styles. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have some Southern/Country gospel styles on those albums, but overall, they would mostly lean very progressive in nature. Whatever your take is on the music of the Rambos for the remainder of the 70’s, there’s still a lot of exciting music coming up!
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