As the 90’s continued to roll on, so did changes for the Nelons. Kelly eventually left to pursue her solo career, and in fact, she released her final solo recording, “Steadfast Heart” in 1992, which was released on the Benson label. Jerry briefly stayed on with the Nelons, but he ultimately left as well to assist Kelly in her solo ministry. Eventually, he and Kelly formed their own group, Kelly Nelon Thompson & Legacy, along with Kelly Benton (soprano) and former Nelons’ pianist, Stan Whitmire. Prior to Jerry leaving the Nelons, Rex hired 2 new female singers, as he opted to go back to the vocal configuration the Nelons were known for. Charlotte Penhollow was brought on to sing soprano, and Tammy Britton joined to sing alto. After Jerry left, Paul White was hired to sing tenor. Incidentally, Paul’s brother, David White, was the tenor/lead singer for Karen Peck & New River at the time. Todd Nelon continued to remain with the group playing bass guitar, as well as sing specialty numbers.
Produced by Russell Mauldin (who also provided string arrangements), “Right On Time” is probably the most traditional sounding recording the Nelons ever recorded. After several years of big and lavish arrangements, straddling the fence between Southern Gospel and Contemporary, things are scaled back a bit for this recording; it’s almost like a throwback to early albums by the group such as “The Sun’s Coming Up”. Naturally, with an overhaul like the Nelons had experienced, you want the group to find their new niche and create a unique sound, and I think going with Mauldin was a smart move. Mauldin was rather new on the scene as a producer (he had been a studio musician for several years prior, even playing drums on the McKameys hit live recording, “Gone to Meetin’”), and I think sometimes using someone different, and in this case someone that was rather new, opens the door for creating something different. Sure, Lari Goss would have been able to give them the slick sound and feel of their last several albums, but since this was a completely new group, I think going a different route allowed them to create something unique to the current group. Almost immediately after the line-up was solidified, the group went into the studio to record this album. Sure, Rex was the pro and Todd wasn’t foreign to the recording studio, but Paul, Tammy and Charlotte were still so new to the group and wet behind the ears so to speak. The group was still trying to gel as a cohesive unit, but I think Mauldin did a great job producing this recording (even assisting with arrangements and song selection), and given the circumstances, was able to bring out the best in the group. The blend wasn’t as tight, and the sound wasn’t as solid as the Nelons were known for, but sometimes I think showing some flaws creates a bit of a raw and vulnerable feel. Admittedly, this was not the Nelons that I loved and was familiar with, but there was so much potential with this group of singers, and I wish they were able to keep it together, as I would have loved to have heard this group develop further. I think had things been different, they could have ushered in a new and exciting era for the group. But I digress…
With its fiddle intro, the recording kicks off with the up-tempo, country sounding tune, “There’s Still A Lot of Blood at Calvary”. Featuring Todd and Paul, with Charlotte taking the lead on the final choruses, the song was written by a wonderful songwriter named Felicia Shiflett (songwriter of such wonderful songs such as “Called Out”, “Empty Vessel” both recorded by the Kingsmen and “Going Back” by the Freemans). I always liked this song (and loved the inclusion of “There is Power in the Blood” as a very fitting bridge) and felt it was a great opening song that completely set the mood for this recording.
With its simple piano intro, lightly accented by strings, Tammy slows the tempo down as she sings “Well Done My Child”. This was the second single from this recording, and it only spent a couple of months in the chart, topping out at #30 in October 1993. The song is one of the few songs on this recording that I felt truly had that classic “Nelon” sound and Tammy does an amazing job on the song with her silky-smooth vocals. Honestly, I wish we had heard more from this young lady, but she pretty much disappeared from radar after her short stint with the group. I feel she could have really made her mark in Southern Gospel Music, either with the Nelons or with another group, had she continued singing professionally.
Several years prior to this recording, a wonderful group called the Chandlers came out with a song called, “Didn’t He Shine”, which was written by group member Sherry Chandler-Haynes. Being that Rex was always on the lookout for gems like this, he published the song, and it features Charlotte on the verses with Tammy taking the lead on the chorus. Though I still prefer the original version by the Chandlers from 1986, the Nelons did a great job with their version of the song, before the tempo kicks back up for the Sandy Knight penned, “Ain’t it Just Like God”, which features both Tammy and Charlotte. The Down East Boys recorded this song around the same time and their version briefly charted, but I much preferred the Nelons rendition and think the song may have done better in the chart had the Nelons released it. It’s a highly enjoyable tune that has that “old” Nelons feel to it, and it’s one of my favorites from the recording. No doubt, this was a concert favorite for the group, as the song made its way to the Nelons’ “A Promised Reunion” live recording which came out a couple years later.
Rex steps up next to sing my personal favorite song from this recording entitled, “Leaning Place”. My favorite Nancy Harmon penned tune, I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it and consider it one of Rex’s finest performances…ever. The harmonies are flawless, and the strings are stunningly beautiful. The song has a magnificent warm feel to it, and it’s just a perfect marriage of lyric, vocals, music, and arrangement…hands down, it’s one of my all-time favorite Nelon tunes. Ironically, this song eventually made it to the Singing News chart 2 years after this recording came out and peaked at #18 during its 4-month run in the chart during the summer of 1994.
The second half of the recording barrels out the gate with the fiddle, harmonica, piano and guitar driven title song, “Right On Time”, which features Todd. Written by Daryl Williams, this was a cool song and was the first single from the recording, peaking at #20 in the Singing News chart in March and April 1993. One interesting historical note, Martin Gureasko, who was the Nelons’ piano player at this time, is the first musician for the Nelons to play on one of their label recordings, as he provides the piano break before the final chorus of the song.
As the tempo slows back down, Paul is featured on the verses, while Tammy takes the lead on a few lines on the chorus, for the dramatic ballad, “He Could Have Answered with My Name”, which was written by Russell Mauldin, along with Sue Smith and Paula Carpenter. This is another song that has that classic Nelons feel to it, before the tempo picks back up for a little Texas Swing on the song, “Gone for Good”, which was written by Sue Smith and Jerry Salley, and features Todd.
“Get Ready Church” slows the pace back down and is a wonderful anthem written by Jerry Thompson that also has that classic Nelons feel to it, before we come to one of the true gems of this recording, presenting a stellar arrangement of the classic, “Love Will Roll the Clouds Away”. Featuring Charlotte and Rex on their respective verses, with Paul carrying out the lead on the final chorus, it’s a wonderful way to round out the recording, and it’s one of my personal favorites.
This new configuration of the group had a really great sound, and I would have loved to have heard this iteration of the group continue, but it still wasn’t the same as the “glory years” of the group. They didn’t have that trademark sound and it sounded like a completely different group than what most Nelon fans were used to. But, as I said earlier, I truly believe if this group had been able to keep it together, they could have gone on to create their own legacy, much like Gold City during their big shake up after Brian Free and Ivan Parker left. Interestingly, along with the Nelons and Gold City, the early 90’s brought major changes for several high-profile groups including the Kingsmen, Cathedral Quartet, Gaither Vocal Band, Perrys and Spencers.
One thing worth mentioning, the Nelons had recorded for Canaan Records since their beginning in 1977, and this would be the last recording for the group on Canaan, as Word Music would eventually dissolve the label (though the label did briefly resurface in the mid-2000’s). Another point I’d like to mention is the cover work. I always felt the cover for “Right On Time” was way too similar to the cover for “Let the Redeemed Say So”. Granted, the cover pictures were very different (“Let the Redeemed…” had a casual look, while “Right On Time” had them dressed up very nicely), but the blotchy gray and black background was way too similar though. Despite that minute point, I really did enjoy this recording and thought it was a really great piece of work. The recording was well done and well produced, was well paced and was a very enjoyable listen, and it remains one of my personal favorite recordings by the group.
Over the course of the following year, Rex had expressed a desire to retire and in doing so, was going to retire the group completely. At that point, Kelly stepped in and took over ownership and assumed management of the group, which allowed Rex to relax and sing, thus saving the group from an early retirement, but more about that in my next article. Interestingly, Todd would eventually depart the group within a year or so after this recording came out, and a few years later he would form his own group called the Todd Nelon Quartet with Paul White and another former Nelons’ vocalist Rodney Swain, along with David Jordan. The group would release one recording together, entitled “Tell Me Your Story” in 2001.
Over the next few years, there would still be lots of changes that would take place for the Nelons as they continued to find their footing and come up with a consistent line-up and cohesive sound that uniquely identified the earlier versions of the group. It was a work in progress, but through it all, they continued to put out some great music and showed some real glimpses of that Nelon magic…because despite all the changes going on with the group, it was definitely still there!
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