We made it! This is my final article in this series on the Nelons. My intention was to review all their recordings up until Rex officially retired from the group, and “Peace Within the Walls” would be the final Nelons recording that Rex sang on. Although Rex is on this recording, by the time it was released, he had essentially retired. Jason Clark’s dad, Dan Clark, came on board to sing bass and was a tremendous bass singer who had tones very similar to Rex, and was a perfect fit for the Nelons. It was again, a time of great change for the group, and unfortunately, due to Jerry and Kelly divorcing, Jerry had left the group and David Hill was brought on to sing lead. David came to the group having previously sung with the Anchormen, Gold City and was also a member of the Singing Americans back when Jason was with the group.
The group had recently signed with Daywind Music Group, and “Peace Within the Walls” was released on their Whitefield label. Lari Goss is producing once again, but the overall production is scaled back quite a bit, with only 4 musicians credited (Lari Goss, piano/keyboards; Marty Schrabel, bass guitar; Aaron Minick, drums; John Willis, guitars) and surprisingly, no orchestrations are used at all. Also, this is the first recording where we hear Jason on a couple of songs, and he is also listed as co-writer on those songs as well. Compared to their last release, this is a very upbeat recording that features some unique and progressive sounds that hasn’t been as prevalent in their music for the last few releases. In fact, as I was listening to this recording preparing for this article, I realized that there are a lot of similar elements present that I hear in their music today.
The up-tempo, “Just Another Rainy Day”, written by Daryl Williams and Cindi Ballard, gets the recording underway. With its electric guitar and drum filled track, it’s a fun tune with a timely message featuring both Kelly and David. This is one of those songs that continues to pop up from time to time, as it was recorded by LordSong a couple years later, and most recently by the Collingsworth Family on their 2011 recording, “Part of the Family”. I think that this would be a great song for the current group to bring back at some point, as well!
With its guitar driven track, “He Called Me Out” keeps the mood in a happy groove and is my favorite song from this recording. Written by Mark Mathes and featuring Rex on some step out lines in the chorus, this infectious tune was a highly popular song for the group, peaking at #7 for 3 months in a row in June, July, and August 1999. This song went over exceptionally well “live” and remained a popular concert favorite for the Nelons for several years. In fact, Greater Vision included this song on their 2003 recording, “Quartets”, which featured the group with Rex’s voice added in from this original recording, as a tribute to Rex, as he had passed away in 2000.
Slowing things down a bit, we come to the jazz infused, “This is the Life”, which was written by both Jason and David. Jason is featured on the song, and I remember seeing them perform this song live in 1999, and they had a lot of fun with it on stage.
Slowing things down further, Amy sings the Sandy Knight penned, “I Felt Your Prayers”. The song has that classic Nelon touch to it and is a highlight of the recording before David steps up to sing the Teddy Huffam classic, “I’m Rich”. Incidentally, about 8 years later, Gold City took the song and had a big hit with it (Teddy originally charted his version of the song back in 1988). It too, is a highlight of the recording and one of my personal favorites.
I’ve never been a big fan of “mama songs”, but “My Mama’s Roses” has always been one I truly enjoyed. I had heard the song several years prior by someone else (I can’t remember who it was) and fell in love with the lyric. With Rex singing the first verse and Kelly taking the second verse, the song was a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to Kelly’s mom (Rex’s wife), who had passed away September 20, 1997. The song, with its nicely done acoustic track, along with its deeply emotional and sentimental lyric, is a highlight of the recording.
David turns in an exceptional performance on the black gospel feel of the Denny Livingston penned, “It’s Our Turn to Sing”. It’s one of my favorites from this recording and I wish this had made it to radio, as it would have been an excellent radio song. When I saw the group back in late 1999, Paul Lancaster sang this song, and being they were in a Pentecostal church, that congregation was all over it! It’s a great song and a highlight of the recording.
Songwriting duo, Joel Lindsey and Wayne Haun penned the up-tempo, “The Battle Isn’t Over”, which is an enjoyable number with a solid Southern Gospel feel, before the tempo slows down for the blues/jazz infused “The Darker the Night”, which was written by Jason and David, and features Jason. With its funky vibe, it’s a different type of song for the Nelons and gives a foretaste of the current group, as the group today incorporates all types of styles and sounds in their music, making them one of the most unique groups on the road today.
The recording closes out with the mesmerizing feel of the meditative, “Sweet Peace”, which features a wonderful and heartfelt performance by Kelly (which I’m sure was a song that deeply ministered to her during this particular time). The Kingsmen recorded the song on their 1999 recording, “Shelter”, and ultimately charted the song the following year. While I love the Kingsmen’s rendition, I prefer the Nelons’ very soothing and warm execution of the song, which seemed to suit the group perfectly, and is one of my favorite Kelly features.
While the trademark orchestrations are missing from this recording, it still has that Nelon magic. “Peace Within the Walls” proved that the Nelons can still bring it, even without all the heavy orchestrations; just provide the basics, and they’ll bring the rest! I enjoyed this recording very much and feel that it was truly a delightful recording that ranks as one of my personal favorites. When I saw the group in late 1999, and they sang several songs from this recording, and they really put on a great program that night.
For the next 12 years, the group continued to struggle with group changes. As I mentioned earlier, after Rex retired, Jason’s dad, Dan Clark joined the group to sing bass. David and Amy eventually departed the group, and Paul Lancaster and Melody Williams took their place. That particular group released a phenomenal recording in 2000 called, “Following After”, which ranks as one of my all-time favorite Nelon recordings. I was privileged to see this particular version of the group in late 1999, and I was blown away by what I heard. Unfortunately, that group did not stay together but for a couple of years. Prior to this point, Jason was playing bass and singing on some songs, and eventually he joined the front lines permanently to sing lead/baritone and Katy VanHorn was hired to sing soprano. Katy didn’t stay long, and her departure paved the way for Kelly’s daughter Amber to take over the soprano position in 2002. Dan also eventually left as well (though he would continue performing with the group from time to time), and the group primarily continued as a trio with Jason, Kelly and Amber for the next several years.
The Nelons released some solid music during the 2000’s and enjoyed success with such songs as “Christians Never Say Goodbye”, “I Choose the Lord”, “He Rolled Back the Stone” and “We Speak Your Name”, but it wasn’t until they came out with, “Beside Still Waters” in 2010 and “Come on Home” in 2012, that things really began to take off again. Both recordings featured some amazing songs such as “He Found Me”, “The Love of God For Me”, “Settled at the Cross” and “Excuse Me, Are You Jesus”. With Kelly’s youngest daughter Autumn joining the group in 2014, the picture was complete, and the group has been non-stop ever since, enjoying such awesome hits such as “My Father’s House”, “When Grandpa Sang Amazing Grace”, “Jordan”, “If God Pulled Back the Curtain” and others. In fact, the songs “When Grandpa Sang Amazing Grace” and “If God Pulled Back the Curtain” won the Dove Award for Bluegrass/Country/Roots Recorded Song of the Year for 2017 and 2021, respectively! Their 2017 release, “The Americana Sessions” was a noteworthy recording, as it brought things full circle for the group. Throughout their history, they borrowed several songs from the country genre, and with this recording they rendered their own versions of such classic tunes as “Gentle on My Mind”, “Coat of Many Colors”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Mama Tried”.
This year (2023), the Nelons are celebrating 46 years as a group, and what a magnificent legacy Rex began in 1977, with the birth of the Rex Nelon Singers. Our genre is much richer for having the Nelons in it, and obviously the Gospel Music Association agreed, as the Nelons were inducted into the GMA Hall of Fame in 2016! Appropriately, Rex was inducted into the SGMA Hall of Fame in 1999. Sadly though, Rex passed away suddenly on January 24, 2000, but the legacy he began, continues today as the Nelons just released their newest recording, “Beautiful”, which includes a wonderful remake of their giant hit song, “O For a Thousand Tongues”. I was honored to review that recording on Absolutely Gospel, and you can read that review here: https://www.absolutelygospel.com/2023/05/09/review-the-nelons-beautiful/.
It truly has been an honor and joy for me to walk through each of these albums, reliving the wonderful music of the Nelons. I know for some, this was a walk down memory lane and for others, it was a wonderful introduction to a rich legacy. My hope is that each of you discovered, and maybe even rediscovered, some remarkable music along the way.
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