The Paynes – “This is War!” (1988)

by | Jun 5, 2024 | LP Review, Reviews

By 1988, it had been 2 years since the album “Rapture” had been released. In 1987 the Paynes released another album through Eagle One Records called, “A Little Bit of Heaven”, which was a much lower budget recording than their “Rapture” album had been and it did not yield any radio singles. The album featured some unique remakes of some of their earlier tunes such as “Welcome Home”, “Oh What a City”, “Come on Over”, “King of Glory” and “When He Was on the Cross”. It also included a phenomenal live performance of “Rise and Walk”, which I suspect was recorded the same night as their “Fire on Stage” album. I have to insert here, that the band’s performance on that live cut was perfect in every way. I love how they alternated the beat and instrumentation on each verse leading to the explosive chorus…just a classic performance! Also, around the same time, the group independently released an album which contained previously released songs that the group recorded during the early 80’s (pre-Windchime) such as “My Last Battle”, “What a Savior”, “How Great It Is” and others entitled, “One More Time with Feeling”. Both albums are pretty rare finds, and if you can get your hands on them, definitely avail yourselves to them! By 1988, the Paynes had departed Eagle One Records and signed with the Benson Company on the RiverSong label, which was one of the most prominent labels in the industry at the time, boasting a hefty roster with such groups as their former label mates from their Windchime days, HeavenBound, as well as the Cathedrals, Kingsmen, Hemphills, Gold City, and others.

For their first album with RiverSong, they brought in the legendary Lari Goss to produce the record. If you’ve read my previous articles on the Nelons and Hemphills, you know that Lari Goss is one of my absolute favorite producers and I absolutely adore his amazing work as a producer, musician, songwriter, and artist, but from a creative and musical standpoint, I don’t think he was the best fit for the Paynes. Make no mistake, he produced an outstanding record, and it sounded perfect in every way, but it’s a very “safe” recording, and definitely a bit more Southern Gospel friendly than “Rapture” may have been. Having a very acoustical country feel, it was totally within the Paynes wheelhouse, but it just didn’t have that diverse and edgy feel like “Rapture” or “I’m a Jesus Fan” did. Given the serious nature of the title song, the cover shot of the group shows them with somber looks on their faces, but the album is actually rather upbeat in nature. It’s a truly a great album and I remember being so excited when it came out and have thoroughly enjoyed listening to it for the last 35 years! (I can’t believe 1988 was 35 years ago!!!)

Milton Ostrander penned the upbeat lead off song, “One Less Stone” and Loreen does a fabulous job with it, before Mike slows the tempo down as he sings, “I’m Living Proof”, which is a song that Mike wrote as his testimony song. Mike’s heartfelt delivery is perfectly complimented by a nice music track filled with wonderful steel guitar embellishments, and I always felt this would have been a great song for radio. In fact, I was so sure this was going to be the second single from the album, I was rather disappointed when it was not chosen for radio. Nonetheless, the song ranks as one of my all-time favorite Mike Payne features.

Picking up the tempo, we come to the fun, “Heavenly Express” which features nice guitar, banjo and harmonica highlights. Driven by a desire to write a train song, Mike wrote this song and it’s an enjoyable tune, which is followed by another fun tune entitled, “One Way Ticket to Paradise”, which is about planes! Featuring Loreen, I love the music track which features some nice mandolin and fiddle enhancements and it’s one of my personal favorite songs from the recording. Both songs had very similar messaging, but I thoroughly enjoyed them both and thought they fit perfectly for this album.

Mike steps back up as he sings the upbeat militant title song, “This is War”, which closes out the first side. The song was a call to arms for the church, “…we’re not fighting flesh and blood, it’s between the bad and good, we can’t stop until the trumpet sounds, this is war, not a game we’re playing…pick up your sword and shield, get on the battlefield, Satan’s army’s come to kill, this is war!”. This was the second single from this album, and it charted for a few months towards the end of 1989, but it never broke into the Singing News Top 20. Though it’s a great upbeat song and was definitely something Mike could really sink his teeth into, I personally thought there were a couple of other songs on this recording that were much more radio worthy, but RiverSong didn’t seek out my opinion on those matters! HA!

Speaking of radio worthy tunes, the second side kicks off with the medium tempo, “I’m Not Gonna Wait (‘til the Judgement Day)”. This song that was an immensely popular concert favorite that is one of my all-time favorite Payne tunes, and I always felt this was a missed opportunity to single an excellent song to radio. The song went over extremely well in concert and was one Mike could really involve himself with, especially when they got to the final bridge/tag of the song, as it generated a certain amount of excitement from the crowd. I think that this would be a really great song for the right group to bring back today.

Featuring some really cool guitar work, the tempo picks up for the campmeeting feel of the April Nye penned, “Stir Up the Fire”, which features Mike on the verses along with step out lines by Keith on the chorus. With some bluegrass undertones featuring guitars, fiddles, and harmonica, this was a little different for the Paynes, but was a great song and a great first single from the album. I wonder if Lari Goss had this song in mind when he worked with the Nelons for the song “Take Off Those Rags, Lazarus” a few years later, as both songs have a very similar feel. This was the first single from the album, and it had a really good showing in the charts, peaking at #9 in the Singing News chart for December 1988. Unfortunately, this would be the last song for the Paynes to find a home in the Top 10.

Slowing the tempo down, Loreen steps up to sing the beautiful old-time country balladry feel of “Heaven Belongs to Me”, which has some really nice fiddle and steel guitar accents before the tempo picks back up for the enjoyable, “Climb that Mountain”, which Mike co-wrote with Larry Petree (one of my favorite songwriters). Featuring Mike on the first verse and Loreen on the second verse, it has the feel of an old Dottie Rambo song and sounds like something the Rambos would have sung back in the early and mid-70’s. There’s a pretty neat key change going into Loreen’s verse and then it modulates back down for Mike to take the lead on the chorus. It’s a great song and one of my favorite gems from this album.

Slowing the tempo back down, Bill closes out the recording with another April Nye penned tune entitled, “Just Stand”. With its deeply encouraging lyric and warm, contemporary feel, the song reminds us to “just stand and see the salvation of the Lord, He’s a strong a mighty tower, a calm within the storm, when you’re trembling in fear, remember that He’s near, he’s always got a plan, just stand”.

“This is War” was a great sounding album, but I don’t think it pushed the Paynes forward like each of their previous albums had done. This album contained some really great songs that ranged from the very serious to the very lighthearted and it had a very cohesive sound and feel, but I think there may have been some unexplored creative opportunities to capture the true essence of the Paynes with this album. Honestly, as I stated earlier, I don’t know if Lari Goss was the best fit for the Paynes’ music (and that is no reflection on him as a producer and musical genius), and I think they truly found their sweet spot with Vic Clay when they recorded “Rapture”. Obviously, I think the Paynes, and the record company, probably felt the same way because they ended up working with Vic again on their next recording.

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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 for several years as well. James also writes for his own music page on Facebook as well, via James' Music Page (


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