The Nelons – Triumphant (1994)
As we talked about in my last article, the Nelons released “A Promised Reunion” during the first half of 1994, and before the year was done, Todd Nelon would come off the road to settle into family life, and Kelly Benton would leave the group as well to pursue other interests. With Benton’s departure, Charlotte Penhollow, who had previously sung with the group back in 1992, was brought back to sing soprano. Charlotte’s return marked a fruitful time of consistency for the Nelons in both personnel and sound, as the group had a similar feel and sound as the Karen Peck era (though Charlotte did not sound like Karen). I hadn’t seen the Nelons in concert since I saw them in Winston-Salem, NC in 1991 (during their Rex, Kelly, Jerry, and Todd stage), and I was fortunate enough to see this particular iteration of the group 2 or 3 times between 1994 and 1996, and I thoroughly enjoyed this version of the group. In fact, it’s one of my favorite versions of the group, as Charlotte was a perfect fit for the Nelons.
“Triumphant”, with its classy cover, came out during the latter half of 1994 and was released through Chapel Records. Earlier in the year the group signed with the newly formed Chapel Music Group, along with several other high-profile groups and artists such as Brian Free & Assurance, Ivan Parker, Jeff & Sheri Easter, and the Martins. Eventually, the label changed hands and was re-branded as Spring Hill Music Group a few years later. For this latest recording, in a unique move, Kelly Nelon Thompson, Geron Davis and Michael English are named as producers, with Lari Goss providing string arrangements. Based on the production credits, that appears to be the extent of Lari’s involvement with this recording. Also worth mentioning, former Rambo’s piano player, David Huntsinger, plays keyboards for the recording. After his time with the Rambos, David worked extensively as a studio musician playing on recordings for such CCM giants as Sandi Patti, Larnelle Harris and Steve Green. Despite some of the more progressive musical creators being involved with this recording, such as Huntsinger, Michael English and Geron Davis, “Triumphant” is surprisingly traditional. I think they were able to tap into that Nelon magic and were able to put together a very nice recording that many fans of the Nelons were able to relate to.
The recording starts off with a cover of the convention classic, “Hallelujah”, which the Happy Goodmans made popular back in the late 60’s. Since Rex owned the publishing to the song, and his love for keeping those old songs alive, the group breathed new life into it, and it was a highlight of the recording. The Nelons’ version is a bit more refined than the Goodmans’ invigorating version from 1968, but with nice fiddle and harmonica accents, it’s a great start to the recording, before the tempo slows down as Kelly steps up to sing “For Eternity”, a wonderful praise song that she wrote with Geron Davis. Filled with nice orchestrations and brandishing that trademark Nelon feel, I can easily hear the current Nelons singing this song.
As the tempo picks back up, Rex is featured on the Carroll McGruder penned, “A Crown You’ve Won”. Filled with harmonica accents and nice piano fills, it’s an enjoyable number that fit Rex like a glove, before the tempo slows down a bit for the medium tempo, “Triumphantly, He Shall Return”, which features Jerry. Written by Regie Hamm and Aaron Wilburn, this mellow sounding song has a unique feel to it and was something a little different for the Nelons. It’s one of my favorites from this recording as it paints a tremendous picture of when our Lord comes back again. The Taylors did a nice cover of this song back on their 2010 recording, “Sing the Story”.
Picking up the tempo, “I’m on My Way”, which features Kelly on the first verse and Charlotte on the second verse, has that classic Nelon feel to it. The song was written by Jerry and it’s a fun song that is Southern Gospel to the core.
Former Cathedrals tenor, Roger Horne penned the acoustically driven, “That’s Enough”, which features Charlotte. This was a big hit for the group, peaking at #6 in August 1995, and ended a dry spell for the group, as this was the first time the Nelons had a song in the Top 10 in about 2 ½ years. The song is the longing for every child of God to hear the Father say, “that’s enough, come on home, gather in around my throne…”, and I think its message and the warm, serene feel of the song resonated well with their fans and made it such a big hit. Also, the feel was somewhat similar to “Bring My Children Home”, even down to Rex’s step out line on the chorus, so the song also probably struck a familiar chord with their fans as well, which added to its popularity.
Picking up the tempo a bit, Jim E. Davis wrote, “I Need a Little Faith”, which features Rex on the verses. With its acoustically driven track and fiddle accents, the song has a very similar feel (though slightly slower paced) to “Get Ready for the Rapture” from their 1988 album, “Get Ready”. On a historical note, Davis was the writer of one of my favorite Nelon tunes, “Joy”, from their 1986 album, “Journeys”. Many other groups have gone on to record Davis’ songs including Gold City, Masters Voice, Perrys and 11th Hour.
Jerry is featured next on the song, “Unto the Hills”, which he co-wrote with Tim Lovelace, and it’s one of my favorite Jerry Thompson tunes. The Florida Boys recorded the song on their 1995 album, “Good News” and eventually released it to radio where it charted in the Top 40 during the first half of 1997. Taken from Psalm 121:1, the song is a beautiful reminder for the Christian, to look unto the hills, from whence cometh our help!
The tempo gets ramped up once more as the Nelons revive one of the old Nancy Harmon tunes the LeFevres originally recorded back in 1977 entitled, “Victory Shall Be Mine”, which features Charlotte. The song enjoyed some chart success, as it charted briefly in early 1996, but never broke into the Top 20. It’s an excellent version of the song and is one of my favorites from this recording. Incidentally, the Hoppers recorded this song several years later on their 2010 recording, “Something’s Happening”, and did an excellent job with their version.
“Triumphant” winds down with the worshipful, “You Are Worthy”, which was written by Wayne Goodine. With its nicely done orchestral track, this was a perfect closing song for the recording, putting focus back on the One worthy of praise.
I thoroughly enjoyed this recording by the Nelons and although this iteration of the group was new, they had a great blend with Charlotte and that old Nelons sound was in full swing. While “Triumphant” lacks those big orchestral power ballads the Nelons were known for, there are some really nice orchestrations on a couple of songs. This is very much a paired back recording, with almost a rustic feel to it, much like their “Let the Redeemed Say So” recording was. Overall though, “Triumphant” is nicely paced and features some really great songs and a strong sound from the Nelons. While some of their recordings from the previous 3-4 years were a struggle for me (though I did come to really enjoy those as I grew older), “Triumphant” was one of the few recordings by the Nelons during the 90s that I was immediately smitten with. It’s a great piece of work and back in 1994, it held so much promise for me as a fan of the group!
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