“A New Generation” is the first major release by the Nelons since “Let the Redeemed Say So” came out in 1989. The two years leading up to this latest recording by the Nelons was filled with a lot of changes and probably a bit of uncertainty. Longtime soprano, Karen Peck, departed the group in 1990 to form her own group, Karen Peck & New River, which still remains one of the most popular groups in our genre today. As if losing Karen wasn’t enough, their popular pianist, Jeff Stice also left in 1990 to join the newly formed mega-group, Perfect Heart, taking with him the Nelons’ drummer, Aubrey Stephens who joined Perfect Heart as their bass guitarist. Martin Guresko (former pianist for the Singing Americans in the mid-80’s) was hired to replace Jeff, and Scott Daugherty (former drummer for the Perkins Family) was hired to play drums. In a unique and rather surprising move, instead of replacing Karen, the group pooled their resources and brought Todd Nelon to the front lines permanently, joining Kelly, Jerry and Rex, making Kelly the only female vocalist in the group. It was a bold and risky move, but Rex was used to being bold and risky! Plus, for the first time in the history of the Nelons, the group was exclusively a family group…with Rex along with his daughter, son and son-in-law. No doubt, Rex was a proud dad, and thoroughly enjoyed this time with his family beside him on stage…it truly was “A New Generation” for the Nelons!
With the new group line-up firmly in place, they went into the studio and recorded their first independent recording in over 6 years, titled “One Less Stone”. It was a really great effort by the group, featuring a few popular songs from the day such as “Paid in Full” (Hemphills), “That Same Spirit” (Paynes) and “Don’t Give Up on a Child of God” (John Starnes), as well as a new power ballad, “The Lamb Has Prevailed”, which showed the group could still churn out those big ballads without a soprano, and they also pulled out an old LeFevres classic, “I’ll Go” for good measure, which Kelly did a really great job on. It wasn’t a high budget recording, but it was well done and got a new recording out with the new line-up quickly and efficiently.
The Nelons’ last few recordings had been particularly more traditional in nature, and with the drastic shift in their vocal structure, they took the opportunity to shift gears back towards a more progressive sound. With such a major shift in their vocal structure, who better to guide them through the treacherous waters of change than Lari Goss. Lari did a marvelous job producing and arranging for this recording, as he worked to recapture that classic Nelon magic, as well as create some new magic along the way!
The upbeat praise and worship feel of “Clap Your Hands”, which was written by Jerry Thompson and Kathy Frizzell, took me back to their 1986 “Journeys” album, where this song would have easily felt right at home. The song, which would have also been right at home on a Talleys recording from around the same time period, was a perfect opening tune, as it truly set the tone for the rest of the recording.
The tempo then slows down for “I’ve Been Through the Blood”, which was written by Jerry along with Daryl Williams. Featuring both Jerry and Kelly (as several songs on this recording would follow this format) this soulful tune is one of my favorites from the recording. While it doesn’t feature a choir, the song definitely has a choral feel to it and would fit right in with a choral presentation in a large church.
Featuring some really cool guitar work, the tempo jumps into high gear for the Southern Gospel/Bluegrass feel of “Take Off Those Rags, Lazarus”. Featuring an excellent performance by Rex and some nice harmonica, piano, banjo and fiddle accents, the song was the first single from the recording and was the first introduction to most fans of the “new” Nelons. With all the changes in their vocal structure, I think it was very smart releasing a song featuring Rex as the first song out the gate. This was such a fun tune and I felt it was a great song for the group, as it really showed off the versatility of the new line-up. Fans obviously agreed, as the song did quite well for the group, peaking at #8 in the February 1992 Singing News chart.
Next, Jerry and Kelly tackle the Geron Davis penned, “When Redeemed I Stand”. This is the first of a couple of excellent power ballads from this recording, ensuring to their fans that the group could still churn out those massive power ballads that they were known for. Despite not having a true soprano to hit those insane high notes at the end, the arrangement for the song worked very well with the 4 voices making up the group at the time and is a highlight of the recording.
Todd and Kelly share lead duties with the medium tempo, “Making My Plans to Make It”, before we come to the rather unassuming, “I’m Glad I Know Who Jesus Is”. Featuring Jerry, with Kelly taking the lead after the second verse, this is another song written by Geron Davis. Featuring steel guitar and fiddle accents, I easily hear a Goodman influence on the song (and can hear them singing the song in my head), and I don’t know if that had anything to do with the popularity of the song, but it shot up to the #1 spot for September 1992 and became one of the Nelons’ biggest and best loved songs.
The tempo slows back down for one of my personal favorite Daryl Williams penned songs, “Mercy Called Me By Name”. Featuring an excellent performance by Kelly (one of my favorite Kelly features), the song was later recorded by Ann Downing and the Melody Boys Quartet, and they both did a fabulous job with their renditions of the song. I always felt this would have been an excellent choice for a single for the Nelons, as it had a certain depth to it and was a great song for Kelly to really sink her teeth into.
The tempo picks up for another Daryl Williams penned tune, “Let the Church Arise”. Featuring both Jerry and Kelly once again, the song has that “old” Nelons feel to it, and it’s one of my favorites. It sounds like one of those classic Nancy Harmon tunes the Nelons were known for singing. I keep waiting for Karen Peck to jump in and take it up another notch, but of course, that doesn’t happen. Nonetheless, it’s a great song and was a wonderful inclusion on this recording.
“I’m Still Leaning on Jesus”, which was a collaborative effort between Jerry Thompson, Niles Borop and Joel Lindsey (Joel Lindsey is one of my all-time favorite songwriters), keeps things upbeat and Todd does a really good job on the song before the recording closes out as Rex and Jerry both do a fabulous job on “When He Takes My Hand”, which was written by Jerry. One of my personal favorites from this recording, I love the warm feel of this song, the steel guitar accents and the rich orchestrations, which gives it that classic Nelons sound.
In the year leading up to this recording, Kelly won the Singing News Fan Award for Favorite Alto at the 1990 National Quartet Convention. Although the Nelons were still with Canaan Records, Kelly had signed with the Benson Company as a solo artist, and she released her first solo recording under that label in 1990 called, “KNT”. I always thought the title was quite ingenious, and in my opinion, this was her best solo effort. I feel she truly came into her own with “KNT”, featuring some outstanding tunes such as “Now That You Know”, “He’ll Go Out of His Way”, “Don’t Stop Praying for Me” and “All Hail the Power”.
I saw the Nelons once during this time (it was actually before “A New Generation” came out), in Winston-Salem, NC at Reynolds Auditorium, and being a big fan of the Nelons, I have to admit that I wasn’t so sure I liked the “new” Nelons. It was a shock to me and was a bit of sucker punch to my gut. This wasn’t the Nelons I grew up hearing and loving, and I wasn’t so sure changing their vocal structure was a good idea. I was in college when this recording came out and went to the local Family Christian Bookstore in Winston-Salem to get my copy, and quite honestly, I really didn’t like it. It’s funny how time works…but when I first heard it, I thought it was pretty progressive…but in analyzing the recording for this series (now 30+ years after it came out), it really wasn’t all THAT progressive! I will say this though, it literally took me YEARS to fully appreciate this recording, and while it’s still not one of my all-time favorites, I have truly grown to enjoy it and appreciate the music on here and what the Nelons were trying to accomplish with this recording. I am sure it was a struggle for them finding their new normal and trying to gel as a cohesive unit during this time. Unfortunately, we never got to find out how things would have turned out, as this iteration of the group was short lived. By the following year, Kelly and Jerry had left, as Kelly went on to pursue her solo career, and Rex opted to re-group with 3 new singers and go back to a vocal format that worked so well for him in the past, with a soprano and alto. That too, was another short-lived change during the rocky 90’s for the Nelons, but the group still continued marching on as they tried to create something that was unique and set them apart from every other group out there.
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