As the old saying goes, “the only thing constant is change”, and 1993 brought more changes for the Nelons. As I mentioned in the last article, with over 35 years of singing professionally under his belt, Rex had decided that it may be time for retirement. Some of the details are a bit murky and the timeline may not be 100% clear, but after Kelly had struck out on her own as a solo artist, she had started her own group called Kelly Nelon Thompson & Legacy, with her husband Jerry, along with Kelly Benton (soprano) and former Nelon’s pianist, Stan Whitmire. At some point after Rex had decided to retire, Kelly essentially merged her group with the Nelons (or Rex joined Kelly’s group, depends on how you want to look at it!) and Kelly took over the management duties of the Nelons, thereby relieving Rex from that responsibility. Kelly Nelon Thompson & Legacy were signed under the Benson Music Group (which Kelly had been recording under as a soloist since 1990) and they had already recorded a new project for the Riversong label, but it had yet to be released. With Rex being added to the group line-up, the group was re-branded as “Kelly Nelon Thompson & The Nelons” for this recording. Though Rex is not pictured on the front cover (there is a shot of him with the group on the back cover), he is on the recording, but only on a few songs. He has one feature, and I clearly hear him in the mix on a handful of songs, but there are several songs where I do not hear him at all.
Produced by Lari Goss, this latest recording basically picks up where “A New Generation” left off, and it was quite a departure from the very traditional feel of “Right on Time”. Comparing this latest recording with “Right on Time” was very much like night and day, as they were literally two very different groups, with 2 different producers and obviously 2 very different recording budgets! I do realize this album was recorded with a very different group in mind, as Kelly’s new group was definitely charging down a more inspirational/contemporary path, and the Nelons were going down a more traditional path. So, while this recording wasn’t “technically” the Nelons, with Kelly and Jerry as part of the group and with Rex added in on certain songs, it does have a strong Nelons feel to it.
Jerry, along with Niles Borop penned the opening tune, “I Feel Like Praising the Lord”, and I am immediately taken back to their 1986 album, “Journeys” again. Featuring both Kelly’s and heavy power chords on the electric guitar, this is one of the songs I don’t hear Rex in the mix at all. It’s a good song and I think it was a strong indicator of the musical path Kelly was planning on taking her group, had things been different.
Long before the Steeles had a #1 hit with “We Want America Back”, the Nelons came out with “We’ve Got to Get America Back to God”. Written by Jerry, the song surprisingly did not do well in the chart, showing up for only a couple of months, never going higher than #39 in February 1994. While I typically tend to stay away from politically charged songs, I always felt this was a really good song, and the anthem spoke the sentiment of many believers in the evangelical movement. Filled with lots of orchestrations and backed by a choir, the song has that classic Nelon feel to it and the group does a tremendous job with the song, before the tempo picks up for Rex’s only feature (he only sings the first verse), on the song, “Here After”, which was written by Niles Borop and Lari Goss. It’s a fun song and was a nice inclusion for the recording, as it does a great job showing off the diversity of the group, with its McGuire Sisters feel. The Cathedrals recorded the song the following year on their “Raise the Roof” recording and did an excellent job with their version of the song as well.
Both Kelly’s are featured on probably my personal favorite song from this recording, “How Many More Miracles”. Written by Kelly, Jerry and a wonderful writer named Bruce Carroll (who made his mark in the CCM/Christian Country market as a singer/songwriter), I always loved the comforting message of faith found in the lyric…“how many more miracles do you need from Me, how many more miracles before your eyes will see, that I will never let you down, in Me you can believe, how many more miracles do you need.” I’d love to see someone bring this song back, as it’s truly a great song worth singing again.
The tempo picks up as Jerry sings the enjoyable tune, “The Gathering”, which has some neat jazz undertones to it, before things really jump into high gear for the Bill Henry penned, “What a Change”. Featuring Jerry and both Kelly’s, this is one of the few songs I hear Rex in the mix. I love the electrifying intensity of the song, as it features that classic Nelon sound and is one of my favorites from the recording. I am so glad they included this on their forthcoming live recording, “A Promised Reunion”, as it was a power-packed tune that worked marvelously in a live setting.
The pace slows down as Kelly sings the worshipful, “Jesus, You’re Everything to Me”. Written by Wayne Goodine, the song features some beautiful harmony and has that familiar Nelons feel to it, before the tempo picks back up for the soulful, “Behold, I Come Quickly”, which was written by Jerry. Many of Jerry’s songs tended to focus on the second coming of Christ and Heaven, and this song continues that theme, and it has a nice choral feel to it before the tempo is dialed back once again as Kelly Benton sings the reassuring message of, “Someone is Praying for Me”, which was written by Andy Sorrells and published through Rex Nelon Music. Kelly sounds a lot like Karen Peck on this song and you can’t help but recall the sound of the Nelons from just a few short years ago when listening to the song.
The recording closes out with the comforting lyric of the power ballad, “I’ve Won”, which is another one of my favorites from the recording. Written by Jerry and Niles Borop, the song features Jerry and Kelly on the verses with Kelly Benton belting out the melody on the final bridge and chorus. The song has that classic Nelons sound, combined with Lari’s signature heavily orchestrated track, and is a triumphant finale to the recording.
When this came out in 1993, I can admit that I didn’t immediately find favor with this recording. For whatever reason, I just wasn’t a fan. I don’t know if it was all the changes within the group, my musical tastes at the time or what, but I just didn’t like it. As I grew older, I started finding more to enjoy about this recording. While I didn’t see it at the time of its release, this recording definitely resembled the classic sound the Nelons were known for. Oddly, only one song charted (briefly) from this recording, and I don’t think any other songs were released to radio. I think there were some solid contenders for singles on this recording such as “What a Change” and even “I’ve Won”. Interestingly, “Leaning Place”, from their 1992 “Right on Time” recording, made its way to the chart in 1994, so it appears they possibly went back to that recording and released that song, as it featured Rex.
Sometime after this recording came out, the group released an independent recording titled, “He’s My Comfort”. Along with the title song, which was a classic Lari Goss penned tune, this was a nice recording that featured a wonderful rendition of the Joel Hemphill penned, “I Claim the Blood”, which features Kelly, a soulful arrangement of “Just a Little Talk with Jesus”, as well as a few new tunes such as the Jerry Thompson penned, “Seek Me and Live”, “There’s My King”, written by Andy Sorrells and “It’s a Wonderful Feeling” which was penned by Bill Henry (the latter 2 shows up on the forthcoming “A Promised Reunion” recording as well).
With all the changes occurring with the Nelons, as well as the ever-changing Southern Gospel landscape, the Nelons kind of got lost in the sea of mixed groups. The Hoppers had become the reigning mixed group at the time, and there was a multitude of new (and not so new) exciting mixed groups in the industry such as Karen Peck & New River, Kevin Spencer Family, McKameys, Perrys, Isaacs, Freemans, Wilburns, Greenes, Martins, New Hinsons, Pfeifers, Chandlers, Whisnants, Steeles, Spencers, Hayes Family, and so many more. It was a different time than it was during the 70’s and 80’s, as the playing field had gotten very crowded, and groups had to work harder and differently than ever before to keep their place in the industry. I do think the Nelons eventually found some footing within the next year or so, but not before we encounter yet another change in the front lines, which comes later in 1994.
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