Vinyl Record Review

The Rex Nelon Singers – We Shall Behold the King (1983)

After 2 albums that leaned more on the progressive side, the Rex Nelon Singers’ 1983 release, “We Shall Behold the King”, was a bit more traditional in nature, but had a big sound and a very elegant and classy feel.  Even the cover (which was shot at the Spaghetti Factory in Nashville, TN) was elegantly done, and I always thought that it was such a classy cover!  Though the album was produced by Ken Harding, this would be the first album that involved Lari Goss, as he provided vocal, string and horn arrangements for the album.  Over time, Lari would play an integral part in the group’s recordings and would be as much a part of their sound as the singers themselves.  Lari played a big part in the music of the LeFevres during the 60’s and 70’s, as he and his brothers played on many of their albums.  Lari eventually began producing some of their recordings, even incorporating strings and horns during the 70’s.  True to Lari Goss style, “We Shall Behold Him” features big arrangements and the group really began to capitalize on those big, orchestrated power ballads and worship songs, which would remain a big part of their repertoire going forward. 

As mentioned, the album was produced by Ken Harding, and as with their previous few albums, there are a slew of musicians playing on the recording…23 in total, not counting string and horn players.  This was truly a big budget recording, and the record company definitely enjoyed a huge return on their investment, as this was a massively popular album for the group, and it set the standard for all their recordings going forward!

The George Shuffler penned, “When I Receive my Robe and Crown” gets things underway.  This straight-ahead Southern Gospel tune starts off with a medium tempo, but mid-way through, the pace picks up and it becomes a lively campmeeting tune filled with harmonica, guitars, and banjo accents.  The song features step-out lines by everyone in the group and it was a highly popular tune, peaking at #6 in the Singing News chart for October 1984.

What follows next, is a song that is forever identified as a Nelon classic, “O For a Thousand Tongues”.   Featuring Kelly and with its simple piano intro, the song was one of the first true “worship” songs that took the Southern Gospel industry by storm.  Soaring to #3 in May 1984, it was voted Song of the Year at the 1984 Singing News Fan Awards and was also one of the Top 10 songs for the GMA Dove Award in 1984.  I remember being absolutely mesmerized by this song the first time I heard it, and when they get to the last half of the chorus toward the end of the song, you just about get raptured!  The song became the standard for worship music in our genre, and began a plethora of worship songs in Southern Gospel Music, such as Squire Parson’s, “It is the King of Kings”, “Let Your Living Waters Flow” by Jimmy Swaggart, “Above it All” by Wendy Bagwell & The Sunliters, Lulu Roman and Russ Taff’s striking duet, “The King of Who I Am”, “Magnify Him” by the Talleys and many others, lest we forget Geron Davis’ masterpiece, “Holy Ground”!  The winds of worship also spread into the contemporary realm, where it was much more accepted.  Written by David Binion and subsequently recorded by a multitude of artists ranging from Shirley Caesar to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, the song was inspired by an experience David had during a campmeeting service at the Happy Goodmans’ church a few years prior; a beautiful moment of worship that was spurred by a simple impromptu song of praise “O Come Let Us Adore Him”.  That experience birthed a remarkable song that has touched generations and broke down denominational and musical barriers everywhere.  The song became Kelly’s signature song and was the catapult for David Binion’s immersion into worship music, which is where he still writes and sings today.

By contrast, “A Story That Will Never Die” is a wonderful bluegrass flavored tune written by Johnny Foster and published through Rex Nelon Music.  Featuring Rodney, with Jerry taking the lead on the final chorus, the song is accented by fiddles and banjos, and is a highlight of the recording.  The Kingsmen did a really good job on the song when they recorded it several years later on their 2006 recording, “Good, Good God”.

Slowing the tempo down, Jerry sings one of my favorite features by him, “Lord, Please Shine Your Light”.  I have adored this song since the first time I heard it, and always loved the warm feel of the song.  I was thrilled to see it resurface on the Taylors’ 2010 recording, “Sing the Story”, as they did a great job with their version of the song.

Featuring a Dixieland Band sound, one of the most popular songs during this time was Hazel Trubee’s fantastic tune, “Walk Right Out of this Valley”.  Published through Rex Nelon Music, Karen does a super job on the song, and it was a concert favorite for years (even after Karen had left the group), and one that Rex seemed to amuse himself with many times over the years.  Though the song was a showstopper for the group back in the day, it was actually the Hoppers (which is my favorite rendition of the song) who had a hit with it on the charts back in late 1983 and into 1984.

Side two starts off with another massive worship tune, “We Shall Behold the King”.  Another song written by David Binion, this time along with his brother, Bobby, the song has the feel of a power ballad, with Rodney taking the lead at the beginning, before Kelly and Jerry duet the second verse and then Kelly solos the last verse.  I love the orchestrations on the song as the group triumphantly belts out the chorus…”we shall see Him in all of His splendor…we shall behold the King!”

With its funky beat, “Fight the Good Fight” is another David Binion tune, and it was a different type of song for the group, and it’s not to be confused with the song by the same title from their 1978 “Live” album.  Featuring Rodney, with some nice bass and electric guitar work and a popping brass section, the song gave the album a bit of diversity, and is an enjoyable listen.

Slowing the tempo down, Rex sings the first verse of “No Longer Lonely”, with Jerry picking up the second verse.  Written by Ruby Moody and David Lehman, the song, with its sad dobro accents, is about as Southern Gospel as it comes, and it’s a wonderful reminder that He is always by our side, and we are never alone!

Conrad Cook (songwriter of such classics as “Glory Road”, “Saints will Rise”, “Is That the Old Ship of Zion” and “When My Feet Touch the Streets of Gold”) penned the invigorating, “I Can’t Keep it to Myself”, which is one of my favorites from this album.  I love the Rex Nelon Singers’ version of the song, but I also enjoy the version by the Sego Brothers & Naomi from their 1984 “Live and on Stage” album.  Both versions are very different from one another, but I thoroughly enjoy them both.

One of the most unusual songs on this album is the closing tune, “All Our Favorite Songs”.  Written by George Jones and recorded a couple years prior by the Oak Ridge Boys, the song features Rex on the first verse, with Kelly taking the second verse.  I never could quite “get into” the song, but it’s a heart-rendering tune about a couple who could not have children, so they began to name imaginary children after all their favorite songs.  It’s a very unique tune to close out such a remarkable album.

I first saw the Rex Nelon Singers in concert on August 13, 1983, on a multi-artist concert at the Civic Center in Raleigh, NC.  I don’t recall if this album was released by the time of this particular event, but I do know I bought my copy when the group returned for another big concert at the Civic Center the following year.  The album was a huge milestone for the group, winning the Dove Award for Southern Gospel Album of the Year in 1984.  Just like their album “Feelings” had been, this was a career album and solidified their place as one of the greatest mixed groups to ever grace a Southern Gospel stage, and once again proved their music was multifaceted and was as diverse as any group before them.  This album had it all and was the epitome of class and sophistication at the time.

The group kept very busy over the ensuing year as they released 2 more recordings.  Sometime in late 1983/early 1984, the group released an independent recording called, “Precious Old Story of Love”, and this would be the last independent recording they would release for several years.  This recording featured a few popular tunes from the day including “Your Ride’s on the Way” (a great song written by Joan Ewing), “The Prodigal Son’s Coming Home”, “Angel’s Move Over”, “Precious Old Story of Love” and the campmeeting favorite, “If You’re Talking About That Old Time Religion”, as well as some newer, previously unrecorded songs such as “You’re My Soul Saver”, “You Can’t Win” and others.  In 1984, in celebration of the group’s 7 year anniversary, Canaan released a new album entitled, “The Best and a Whole Lot More”, which was mostly a “Best of” compilation of some of their greatest hits from the past 7 years including “The Sun’s Coming Up”, “We Shall Wear a Robe and Crown”, “More Than Conquerors” and “Come Morning”, but it also featured 3 new tunes…”If God Before Us” (written by Mike Payne), “There’s More Where That Came From” (which is my favorite of the 3 new songs) and a stunning acapella version of “Amazing Grace”.  I’ve often wondered if these songs were left over from their “Precious Old Story of Love” recording session, and subsequently released on this new Canaan album.  Ironically, despite being a “greatest hits” type of recording and there were no chart songs from the album, it won the Dove Award for Southern Gospel Album of the Year at the 1985 Dove Awards.

Kelly was keeping busy as well, as just before “We Shall Behold the King” came out, she released her first solo album, “Her Father’s Child” on Canaan Records, which featured a wonderful song called, “Heaven Must Have Missed You”.  The album was uniquely “Kelly” and was an excellent representation of who she was as a singer.  Then, in 1984, Kelly released one of the most unusual albums ever released in Southern Gospel called, “Body Light”, which was an exercise album featuring the music of the Rex Nelon Singers.  It’s an interesting album and worth checking it out if you can find yourself a copy!

Needless to say, these were busy and exciting times for the group, and they were riding a wonderful wave of success and popularity.  But once again, change was on the horizon, as by the end of 1984, Rodney Swain would leave the group, and instead of replacing him, they went back to the original structure of just 4 voices…Rex, Kelly, Karen and Jerry.  They also shortened their name from the “Rex Nelon Singers” to just “The Nelons”; but like all the other changes that had taken place, it didn’t stop or hinder their success, but the group continued to shine and blaze new trails that many groups are still enjoying today!

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