Before the 80’s closed out and the 90’s ushers in an immense amount of change for the Nelons, the group churned out one final recording by the “dream team”. Once again produced by Lari Goss, this latest recording is decidedly even more traditional than their last 2 recordings had been. While there are still a few songs brandishing their trademark sound of big ballads filled with strings and brass arrangements, many of the songs on this recording have a bit more of a rustic or acoustical feel to them. In fact, unlike their last few recordings, there are 3 elite musicians credited with playing acoustic guitar for this recording…Bobby All, Mark Casstevens and Bruce Watkins. I really liked the overall feel of the recording and I felt that the casual look of the cover shot matched the overall vibe of the recording.
I appreciate the approach taken for this album, and in my opinion, “Let the Redeemed Say So”, much like every other recording they’d released thus far, proves that the Nelons were truly a multi-facetted group, who could not only tackle big and complex arrangements, but they could also do simple. While this recording takes a somewhat rustic approach, there is a certain elegance about it. I know rustic and elegant aren’t two words one wouldn’t normally associate together, but I think it works with this recording, and Lari Goss and the Nelons definitely show us how it’s done!
Things kick off with the exciting title song, “Let the Redeemed Say So”, which was written by Nancy Harmon. I was in high school when this recording came out and hadn’t started collecting records at that point (and did not have any albums by the LeFevres in my collection), so I had never heard this song before and was unaware that it was a song the LeFevres had recorded some 15 years earlier. To this (then) 17-year-old, I thought this was the greatest song I’d ever heard, and I loved the intensity and excitement in the song. Obviously, this was one of the more complex tunes on this recording, but a lot of other people enjoyed all that this song had to offer, as it went all the way to #4 in the Singing News chart for May of 1990. A little over 15 years later, the Hoppers would take this arrangement and take it to a whole new level (which coincidently, Lari Goss produced that as well!) when they recorded it on their 2006 recording, “The Ride” (which I go into great detail about in another article you can read here: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=511156674099479&set=a.510556180826195).
Slowing the pace down, Karen sings the Jerry Thompson penned, “I Will Give You Water” (the first of five songs he wrote for this recording). I love how the song starts with a simple guitar accompaniment, and as the song moves along, the music continues to build in, but never overbearing. With its acoustic feel, I always thought this was such a cool and soothing song that fit the group perfectly. Incidentally, Karen included this song on her first solo recording, “My Father’s Words”, which was released on Homeland Records the same year as “Let the Redeemed Say So” was released. Though Karen’s version followed a similar arrangement as the Nelon’s rendition, her solo version was slightly faster and in fact, her version of the song charted for about 4 months in the Top 40 during the first half of 1991.
Having already enjoyed success with songs written by Carroll McGruder, the group tackles another one of his tunes as Todd sings the up-tempo, “I Want to Praise Jesus” (which was actually an older song he had written several years prior), before we move on to the Mark Lanier masterpiece, “He’s the Calm Before the Storm”, which was published through Rex Nelon Music. Rex gives what I consider to be one of his all-time greatest performances on the first verse, before Jerry takes the lead on the first chorus. As the key modulates and the tempo slows down, Kelly thoughtfully delivers the second verse and I feel she gives one of her best performances ever, before Karen brings it home on the chorus. This is one of my all-time favorite Nelon power ballads, as I love the comforting message found in the song, the wonderful orchestrations and the pure emotion of the Nelons’ performance. I always felt it was #1 worthy, but alas the song ended up stalling out at #10 in January 1991. Southern Gospel fans are a little finicky when it comes to group changes, and even though Karen isn’t really featured on the song, I think her departure from the group played a role in the song not doing as well as it could have.
Things get kicked into high gear with the highly energetic, “Singing in the Midnight Hour”, which was written by a wonderful writer named Marcia Henry. I love the harmonica and guitar work on the song as Kelly does a great job on this spirited tune. I feel it’s an often-overlooked gem of a song and think it’d be a cool song for someone to bring back. This peppy tune was the last single released from this recording, which only charted for a couple of months in mid-1991, never breaking into the Top 20. Again, I think Karen’s departure from the group hurt the success this song could have had.
Slowing the tempo way down, we come to one of my favorite Jerry Thompson penned tunes, “Stand Still”. Dramatically contrasting the energy of the previous tune, with a hush, Kelly starts off acapella as she sings “Quiet please…the Lord is speaking…”. I love the dynamics of the song as well as the lush orchestrations and I feel that this would be another great song for someone (maybe even the Nelons?) to bring back today. When this recording first came out, this wasn’t one of my favorite songs, but over the course of time, I grew to deeply love this song and its impactful reminder to the church to “stand still…for I am still God!”.
The tempo picks back up for another Jerry Thompson tune, “We’re Gonna Walk in White”. Karen is featured on the second verse, and I love the guitar work on the song, but my favorite part of the song is when Rex booms in with his booming bass vocal on the final chorus after the bridge…“gonna walk in white”. It’s not a deep theological song, but it’s a fun and cool tune. Funny thing about this song though, it always made me think of the old Inspirations’ tune, “They Shall Walk with Me in White”, which is one of my favorite early Inspirations’ tunes from the 60’s.
Slowing the tempo back down, Jerry sings another of his compositions, “He’s Never Gone Back on a Promise”, which is another beautifully orchestrated song, before we come to what is probably my favorite song from this recording, “He Left it All”, which was written by Aaron Wilburn. Filled with wonderful dobro and steel guitar accents, I love the haunting feel of the melody, as well as Rex and Jerry’s contrasting verses. Around the same time as this recording came out, another group called Priority also recorded the song on their “Does Jesus Ever Cross Your Heart” recording, and their young tenor, Kurt Young (who later sang briefly with the Cathedrals after Danny Funderburk left), did a phenomenal job on the song.
Finishing out the recording, Jerry and Karen sing, “Get Up, Get Ready”, which also features call-backs by Kelly on the bridge before the final chorus. Written by Jerry, this is an enjoyable number that features some nice guitar work and is a great song to finish out the recording.
During the 1989 and 1990 Singing News Fan Awards, Karen Peck took home the award for Favorite Soprano. Earlier, I alluded to a solo recording that Karen released in 1989 called, “My Father’s Words” that was released through Homeland Music Group. This solo recording was very indicative of the style of music her future group, Karen Peck & New River would be doing, as it featured a lot of that rustic, country feel the group is known for. Karen enjoyed 3 Top 40 chart songs from her solo recording, “Living in Beulah Land”, “I Will Give You Water”, as well as the title song, “My Father’s Words”.
Being a stats nerd, on a whelm I decided to calculate the number of awards the Nelons had won up until this point (combining all group and individual awards from Singing News Fan Awards, Dove Awards and Grammy Awards), and by 1990, they had won a total of 25 awards altogether. This includes 20 Singing News Fan Awards and 5 Dove Awards. The only other mixed group that compares is the Happy Goodman Family, who had accumulated 21 awards, which includes 17 Singing News Fan Awards, 2 Dove Awards and 2 Grammy Awards. Of course, gauging an artist or group’s popularity and legacy includes lots of other things such as chart and radio success (if my calculations are correct, both the Goodmans and Nelons have around 30 or so Top 10 hits), ticket sales, album sales, historical influence, and a host of other things; but I said all that to say this…the Nelons were giants in the industry! The group won “Mixed Group of the Year” at the 1981 Singing News Fan Awards, which was the first year that award was given out. For some reason, the award was only given out that one year, was discontinued for several years and was not awarded again until 1997 (the Hoppers won in 1997). I firmly believe that had that award been continued through the 80’s, the Nelons would have likely taken home that award every year (or at least almost every year) during the 80’s (as I said in a previous article, their biggest competitors during this time were the Hinsons, Hemphills and Hoppers). Speaking of the Hoppers, they took up the mantle during the 90s and early 2000’s as top mixed group, but the Nelons definitely ruled the 80’s.
Getting back to the recording at hand, “Let the Redeemed Say So” was a very cohesive sounding recording, and while I wouldn’t rank it alongside “Thanks” or “Get Ready”, it’s a great recording and is one of my personal favorites by the group. Even though it was nominated for a Grammy in 1990, I think the changes that occurred in the group the following year after this was released, greatly overshadowed any success this recording could have had. As the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and this would be the last recording by the “dream team”, as Karen would depart the group the following year. Karen married Ricky Gooch on May 5, 1989, and in 1990, she formed Karen Peck & New River, which would include her husband playing guitar and her sister, Susan singing alto.
In 1990, to celebrate the Nelons’ 13 years as a group and realizing a big change was on the horizon, Canaan Records released an outstanding and classy compilation chronicling 20 of their greatest hits, appropriately titled, “The Best of Times”. The 90’s would be a very uncertain and inconsistent decade for the group, but the Nelons marched on and still continued to put out some amazing music, but with Karen’s departure, it was the end of a truly remarkable and historical era for the Nelons.
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