The Nelons – “A Promised Reunion” (1994)

by | Nov 8, 2023 | LP Review, Reviews

During the first half of 1994, the Nelons released this wonderful live recording, which celebrates 17 years of a rich legacy that began in 1977. Including previous members of the group (singers and musicians), it was an amazing reunion as they all came together to honor Rex and the group. The Nelons already had a mini reunion in 1993, which was captured on the live recording, “We’ve Come to Worship: A Live Celebration of Praise”, released on Riversong Records, and featured Michael English along with other Riversong label artists such as Heirloom, Gold City, Heaven Bound, Greenes, Greater Vision, Jeff & Sheri Easter, etc. If my timeline tracks correctly, this mini reunion was during the transitional period between Rex’s retirement and the re-creation of the Nelons, which all transpired over the course of a couple of short months in 1993. If my info is correct, Kelly was originally slated to appear as a soloist, but instead, she invited Karen Peck along with Jerry, Todd and Rex for a couple of phenomenal performances of 2 Nelon sugar sticks, “O For a Thousand Tongues” and “We Shall Wear a Robe and Crown”, which was met with a rousing standing ovation. It truly was a magical moment, and I am so glad it was caught on tape, and it just makes me wish this version of the group had recorded a live album back in the day! Anyway, back to this particular reunion…

“A Promised Reunion” was recorded at Mount Paran Church of God North, which was the same church as the previously mentioned, “We’ve Come to Worship”, recording was filmed at. This was released as a live recording and video, and you can actually see the entire video on You Tube. I remember when this was released, I was so excited to hear the original group with Janet Paschal and Rodney Swain, as well as the later version with Karen Peck. For this recording, Kelly Nelon Thompson is in the producer’s chair, and she did a great job pulling everything together and creating a magical evening of memories and music. I know it was truly a group effort, and I appreciate everyone rallying to the call to make it happen in such a classy way!

Throughout the recording, a narrator tells the story of the Nelons between each version of the group. As the recording begins, the announcer narrates a brief history of Rex and the beginnings of the Rex Nelon Singers, before the original group with Rodney, Janet, Kelly and Rex, step up to centerstage as they sing a couple of their early classic tunes, “The Sun’s Coming Up” and “Thank You Lord for Your Blessings on Me”.

As always is the case, there are a million road stories to tell, and Rex takes a few moments to share a couple of funny stories on Rodney and Janet, before Janet steps up to sing the group’s first #1 song, “Come Morning”. As the group comes together on the chorus, it’s truly a magical moment and the audience quickly realizes this, as they break out in spontaneous applause.

Rodney then takes a second to introduce Rex’s popular song, “I Love to Call His Name”, and the group does a great job on it before they take off on the ever popular, “We Shall Wear a Robe and Crown”. You can tell the high notes aren’t quite there like they used to be for Janet, and part of me wishes they had Karen Peck join on the encore (much like Ernie Phillips took over for Johnny Parrack on the Kingsmen’s reunion video, “Perfecting the Crown”), especially since the song was so much a part of both Karen and Janet’s singing career. Nonetheless, it’s an exciting performance that closes out this portion of the program.

As we are introduced to the Karen Peck era of the group, they kick things off with the concert favorite, “Way Up in Gloryland”. As always, it’s a dandy of a song and a true gem, before Karen shares her heart for a moment and introduces the next song, “Bring My Children Home”, which she does a fabulous job singing.

As Rex briefly shares, “Walk Right Out of this Valley” is a song he has had a lot of fun with over the years and Karen does a super job on it before they tear into another concert favorite, “Ain’t No Grave”. You can tell the group has an immense amount of fun with this song (especially Jeff Stice, much to the chagrin of Kelly), and the audience just eats it up! This song was always a highlight of any Nelons concert back in the day, and they do not disappoint with this performance.

Todd steps up next to sing their hit song, “Thanks”, written by Carroll McGruder, before Kelly takes a moment to testify before she sings the David Binion masterpiece, “O For a Thousand Tongues”. For both songs, the group is joined by the Mt. Paran Church of God choir before the tempo gets kicked into high gear as they close out this portion of the program with one of my favorite Nancy Harmon penned tunes, “I’ve Got a Right”, and Karen knocks it out of the ballpark!

Transitioning to the time when Kelly and Jerry were not part of the Nelons, Paul White, Charlotte Penhollow and Belinda Smith join Rex on stage as they sing “Ain’t it Just Like God”. From what I understand, while Belinda did not record with the Nelons, she did fill in briefly during this time period of the group. I wish Tammy Britton had been able to attend, as I would have loved to have heard that particular group sing live, as I never got a chance to hear them in person.

As Kelly, Jerry and Todd rejoin Rex on stage, they deliver the goods on their former #1 hit, “I’m Glad I Know Who Jesus Is”, before the current group, with Kelly Benton on soprano, sings the worshipful, “There’s My King”, which they had previously recorded on their independent studio album, “He’s My Comfort”.

The energy gets ramped up as they tear into “What a Change”, where they are joined once again by the Mt Paran Church of God choir, and the group does a fantastic job on this number before Kelly takes a moment to introduce her and Jerry’s daughter, Amber, and Todd’s son Jordan, before Amber sings the heartwarming, “It’s a Wonderful Feeling”.

Kelly then takes a moment as she sets up the newly penned title song, “A Promised Reunion”, which was written by Jerry along with Joel Lindsey. Featuring both Jerry and Kelly, it’s a powerful song filled with a tremendous promise for all believers and was a perfect fit for this live recording.

As the evening comes to a close, Jerry takes a moment to introduce, “We’ve Got to Get America Back to God”, where the group is joined by all former members of the group, as well as the Mt. Paran Church of God choir for a spectacular grand finale.

Overall, this was an excellent reunion recording and the crowd seemed to really enjoy it as well. Whereas a lot of reunion recordings don’t always come together as nicely as this one did, and with this being a live event, it just adds the pressure to make sure it’s done right, and as par for the course for the Nelons, it was a classy production. In the midst of all the changes the Nelons had experienced in the previous 4 years, it was wonderful seeing everyone come together for one magical night where all seemed right in the world. I think the set list was about as near perfect as it could be…but I still would have loved to have heard such great songs as “More than Conquerors”, “Jesus is Alive and Well”, “Jesus is Your Ticket to Heaven”, “God Bless the USA”, “Alleluia to the Lamb”, “I’m Gonna Keep Walkin’” and others. From a production/musical standpoint, I would have loved to have heard some steel/electric guitar added to the mix, as the Nelons did employ some excellent guitarists over the years. For this album though, the only musical accompaniment utilized was piano, bass and drums, though they did use a soundtrack for “We’ve Got to Get American Back to God”.

Before 1994 would come to a close though, Kelly Benton would depart the group and Charlotte Penhollow would step back in to fill the vacated soprano position. With Charlotte, the next couple of years was a time of stability for the group and they began to enjoy some good success with that particular line-up, which was actually one of my favorite versions of the Nelons. But as usual, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, so more about that in my next article!

Please check out my music page on Facebook for more content related to Southern Gospel Music including more discography reviews on other groups, we well as other thoughts and discussions related to Southern Gospel Music.  Please like and follow my page at https://www.facebook.com/James-Music-Page-102612571620560.

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James Hales

James Hales

James is a lifelong fan of Southern Gospel Music. Being exposed to the music through his dad's record collection as a 7 or 8 year old boy in the late 70's, James grew to love the music of the Happy Goodmans, Kingsmen, Inspirations, Rambos, Florida Boys and others. James has been a staff writer for Absolutely Gospel since 2000 writing music reviews and various articles, and he has contributed to Musicscribe and SGHistory.com for several years as well. James also writes for his own music page on Facebook as well, via James' Music Page (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063484056683).

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