After the success of their last album, “In One Accord” (which featured 3 major charting songs and a couple of popular concert favorites), their next album, “Journeys” was another recording with a strong progressive feel to it. Though it was very progressive, the album had a very different feel to it compared to “In One Accord”. While there were some traditional aspects intertwined throughout the album, the overarching feel of the album seemed to lean heavily towards a contemporary/inspirational/worship vibe, and features a lot of synthesized sounds, which was pretty prevalent during this time in most other genres.
Once again, the album was produced by Ken Harding, with string, horn and vocal arrangements provided by Bergen White. Lanier Motes (a gentleman that the Nelons were familiar with from the Atlanta, GA area) is added to the mix by assisting with vocal arrangements on a few songs. I alluded to this in my last article, but as the recording process was evolving during this time, the industry was moving away from recording to tape and going towards recording to digital formats, and the need for so many musicians wasn’t as prevalent. With this album, the list of musicians is cut in half than what we had previously seen and there are only 7 musicians credited for playing on this album, not including string and brass players.
Before we get into the album, I do want to make mention about the cover shot, as I have always loved the cover for “Journeys”. My understanding is that it was shot around the Parthenon in Nashville, TN, and I love the look and feel of it. It’s a very classy shot by Peter Nash and cover design by Virginia Team and Jerry Joyner.
Kelly kicks things off with the upbeat and light-hearted worship tune, “Lift Up Your Hands”. Featuring keyboard/synthesizer accents, the song sets the mood for the recording, before Karen triumphantly sings the Babbie Mason penned worship classic, “All Rise”. With its tastefully arranged orchestrated track, I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it and it’s one of my favorite worship tunes in the Nelons repertoire.
After two contrasting worship tunes, the up-tempo, jazz infused, “The Good News and the Bad News” follows. With its snappy horn section and McGuire Sisters feel, this fun and enjoyable tune leads perfectly into “Nothing Shall Separate Me”, which is a wonderful Nancy Harmon penned tune. It was great seeing her name return, as her songs had been missing from the last couple of albums. I love the piano intro and the song has a wonderful black gospel feel to it, with Rex doing a superb job on the verses. This was the second single from this album, and while it was a popular tune spending a few months in the chart, it never quite made it into the Top 20 in the Singing News chart. Nonetheless, it’s one of my favorites from this recording.
During his first 7 years with the Nelons, we’ve enjoyed Jerry Thompson, the singer; for the final song on this side, we are introduced to Jerry Thompson, the songwriter. “Journeys” presents 3 new songs that he either wrote or co-wrote, and “Here Comes Jesus” was a collaboration between Jerry and Niles Borop. With its massively orchestrated track, the song builds with intensity to a grand finish as Kelly really pushes her upper register on this song, with Karen way up in the stratosphere somewhere, and they do a great job delivering the goods on the song.
Side 2 starts with another Jerry Thompson penned tune, “I’m Gonna Keep Walkin’”. Featuring Kelly on the first verse and Rex on the second verse, the song was the first single release from the album and is one of the more traditional sounding tunes found here. The song did well for the group, peaking at #5 for three months in a row in the Singing News chart for April, May and June of 1987. I always thought it was a cool song and it’s probably my favorite from this recording.
With its Caribbean feel, Todd steps up to the mic to sing the fun, “Take the Praise”. Featuring some nice call-back’s from the group on the chorus after the second verse, this was another collaboration between Jerry Thompson and Niles Borop, before the tempo slows down as Jerry sings an early Daryl Williams penned tune, “Have a Safe Journey Home”. Daryl is one of my favorite songwriters, and eventually, the Speers picked this song up several years later, on their final studio recording before retiring and they did a great job with their version of the song.
The tempo picks back up for the bouncy, “Joy”, which was written by Jim Davis and published by Rex Nelon Music. Featuring Jerry and Kelly, I remember seeing the group sing on PTL (summer of 1986, I believe) and they sang this song (along with “Alleluia to the Lamb”) and I thought it was such a cool tune. I didn’t have this record at the time, so it was my first time hearing the song and I thought it was such a great tune and have always thought it would have been a great radio song. I also think this would be a cool song for someone to bring this back today.
The album closes out with the dark, foreboding feel of the riveting, “Famine in the Land”. With its haunting music track and outstanding performance by Kelly, the song was different from anything the group had ever recorded, and it was starkly different from anything ever recorded in Southern Gospel. Written by Niles Borop along with Dick and Melodie Tunney, the song was made into a concept video (one of the very few concept videos in Southern Gospel at the time), and it won the Dove Award for Short Form Video of the Year at the 1987 Dove Awards. Interesting tidbit about the song…I bought this album (along with their “Thanks” album) when I saw the group in October 1987, and as I was talking to Rex specifically about this song, he mentioned that as unique and popular as the song was, the group had never staged it. To my knowledge, the song was never released to radio as a single, but I always thought it would have been a perfect song to send to CCM/Inspirational radio to expand the Nelons’ reach. The song was a stark reminder for many of us that there are people all over the world who are hungry for the gospel, and they fear for their lives because of it. As the final notes of the piano fade into silence, you can’t help but be caught a little breathless by the heaviness of the song and its deeply impactful message.
After being with the group for about 5 years, Karen Peck won her first award as Favorite Soprano in the 1986 Singing News Fan Awards. She would go on to win that award 12 times! She took home the award undefeated 11 times between 1986 and 1996 and would snag it for the twelfth time just last year in 2022! Interesting historical tidbit…only 3 ladies have taken home that award since its inception in 1985…Sandi Patti (once), Kim Hopper (25 times) and Karen Peck (12 times)!
One thing I have always appreciated with the Nelons is they have always included the band members on either the front or back of their albums. As I stated in my article last week, the band plays as much a part of their success as the singers do. For various reasons, I have purposely left out naming the musicians who were touring with the group with each album, but I did want to point out the piano player with the group at this time, Stan Whitmire. He wasn’t with the group long in this tenure (he would return a few years later), but Stan has continued to play an active role in the group throughout the years as pianist and arranger, and still makes appearances with the group from time to time.
As I close out, let me state that “Journeys” was never one of my favorite albums by the group. It’s not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s just not one of my favorites. I dearly love some of the songs, but I never could get into the whole vibe of the album. This album and their 1980 album, “Expressions of Love”, are probably the least listened to albums in my vinyl collection by the Nelons. But the album did a wonderful job showcasing the Nelons as they continued to stretch themselves creatively. It showed they were still relevant, and they were still pushing forward on their journey. They were not yet ready to rest on their laurels, but they were always creating, expanding and in the end, making great music that will last a lifetime!
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