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Vinyl Record Review: The Inspirations…Their First 13 Albums

Before I move on to the next group in my discography review series, I want to talk about this batch of records that is part of my earliest music recollection and was such a huge part of my growing-up years.  Some of you may recall an article I wrote last year detailing how I came to be introduced to Southern Gospel Music.  If you missed that article, you can read it here:  

Essentially, it was my dad’s stack of records that I found at the bottom of a bedroom closet in the late 70’s, when I was about 6 or 7 years old.  In that stack of 60-70 records was the first 13 albums by the Inspirations…”Our Pioneer Heritage” (1966), “Cool Water” (1966), “Just as Long as Eternity Rolls” (1966), “What a Wonderful Time” (1967), “From the Heart of the Great Smokies” (1967), “He’s Our Guide” (1967), “Jesus is Coming Soon” (1968), “The Next Step You Take” (1968), “The Night Before Easter” (1969), “Keep Your Eyes on Jesus” (1970), “Our Inspiration” (1971), “Wake Up in Glory” (1972) and “Old Time Singin’” (1972).  The Inspirations sang at Fellowship Baptist Church here in Durham several times during the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and at one of their visits during the early or mid-70’s, they had a big sale on all their old albums and my dad bought them all.  This worked out beautifully for me because I never had to shell out big bucks for these records, as some of these early gems easily goes for $100 or more…especially for “Just as Long as Eternity Rolls”, as there are only a few hundred copies of that record in existence because the master was destroyed many years ago in a fire.  

It’s interesting hearing the Inspirations during those earliest years, as they were so young, and their voices and individual styles hadn’t quite fully developed yet.  Archie had much quieter tones in his younger days, but as he got into his prime in the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, he developed a harder style and became one of the most identifiable voices in all of gospel music.  Ronnie and Jack had pretty much developed their unique styles; just became more refined over time.  Troy was the youngest, and as his voice matured and developed, he grew from being a solid bass singer to one of the most dynamic lead singers in our genre.  

One of my favorite things to do is analyze the evolution of a group’s sound, and it’s neat hearing how the Inspiration’s style and sound developed over the years.  Their first album was a very basic album with just piano and bass guitar.  With each successive album, they added guitars and drums, and their arrangements became more robust as well.  Also, with each album, you start to hear them find their identity and style, especially with such songs as “When We Get Home”, “Hide Me, Rock of Ages” and “New Jerusalem”.  On those earliest albums, ”Our Pioneer Heritage”, “Cool Water”, “Just as Long as Eternity Rolls” and “What a Wonderful Time”, the Inspirations rendered their own renditions of such wonderful songs as “Little is Much”, “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot”, “Well Done My Child”, “The Lights of Home”, “Daniel Prayed”, “You’d Better Run” (I always preferred the Inspirations’ version over anyone else) and “Million Treasures in the Sky”.  On these 4 albums, we also find some of their earliest popular songs and concert favorites such as, “On the Sunny Banks” (you definitely catch the Swanee River Boys vibe on this one), “Just As Long As Eternity Rolls” (one of my all-time favorite Inspiration’s tunes), “Reunion in Heaven” (another all-time favorite), “Hide Me, Rock of Ages” (which still remains a popular concert favorite for the group today!), “When God’s Chariot Comes” and “Stroll Over Heaven”…all of which were absolute gems!

Their 5th album, “From the Heart of the Great Smokies”, is one of my personal favorites of their early albums.  I listened to this album constantly as a kid, just relishing in those exciting, up-tempo tunes like “Getting in the Fight”, “Move Up a Little Closer”, “I’m Saved Forevermore” (my favorite from this album), “Back to the Dust” and “Wade on Out”.  I also enjoyed some of the slower tunes such as “Since Jesus Passed By”, “The Lights of Home” and “I’ve Got a Longing”.  Their next album, “He’s Our Guide” was a bit more slower paced, but still featured some wonderful up-tempo songs such as “I’m Gonna Tell It” and “I See Home” (my favorite from this album, and one I would LOVE to hear the group tackle today), but I also enjoy some of the slower tunes such as “He’s Our Guide” and “I’ll Meet You in the Morning”.

“Jesus is Coming Soon” was the album that put the Inspirations on the map.  As a kid, I was absolutely captivated by “Jesus is Coming Soon” and would also listen to “They Shall Walk with Me in White” incessantly.  For some reason, I fell in love with those 2 songs as a kid, and they were my favorites from this album, but I also enjoyed hearing them sing “When They Ring Those Golden Bells”, “Walk in Jerusalem” and “This Great Love of Jesus” as well.  Their next album, “The Next Step You Take”, wasn’t one I listened to as much as the others, for some reason.  The title song, “The Next Step You Take”, is one of my all-time favorite Inspirations songs and I loved the precision of Ronnie’s singing on that song, especially as his voice cuts through the silence…”Why worry about tomorrow…”.  As he starts acapella, it just jumps out at you, and it’s a song that has remained a big part of my life’s soundtrack.  Just out of the blue, this songs comes to my mind often…in the car, around the house…I’ll just break out singing, “Why worry about tomorrow…”.  I also love the blues feel on the song “My Lord’s Been A-Walkin’”.  I always felt it was such a cool song and it has remained one of my all-time favorite Inspirations tunes.  Their soulful version of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” is one of the coolest renditions of the song that I’ve ever heard.  Archie’s high falsetto singing and Troy’s deep bass tones make this song a spectacular piece of ear candy.  One other song I enjoy from this album is the invigorating, “To Jesus, I am Resigning”.  This type of song is something the Inspirations excelled in, and they recorded several songs through the years that were in a very similar vein, such as “I’ll Be In the Rapture”, “Keep Your Eyes on Jesus”, “I’ll Be Moving Away”, “Joshua”, “Going Up”, “We Shall Rise”, “On the Sea of Life”, “I’ll Live Again” and so on.  The unique thing with both albums, “Jesus is Coming Soon” and “The Next Step You Take”, is that you can clearly hear their identifiable sound strongly taking shape.

I had a lot of favorites on their next two albums…”The Night Before Easter” and “Keep Your Eyes on Jesus”.  Both albums brought the first personnel changes for the group as we are introduced to Eddie Dietz and later, Marlin Shubert, as both Ronnie Hutchins and Troy Burns left the group for a brief time.  Jack Laws also left briefly, but later returned to play bass and guitar, as well as sing on specialty numbers.  The album “The Night Before Easter” contains another one of my all-time favorite Inspirations tunes, “I’ll Be in the Rapture”.  I was thrilled to see the group, Paid in Full, record the song back in 2002 and they took it up the charts with their invigorating arrangement, which I actually prefer over the Inspirations’ version!  (Shh…don’t tell anyone!)  The Inspirations’ version of “The Night Before Easter”, “Constantly Aware” and “The Unseen Hand” were my initial introduction to those great songs as a kid, and they still remain some of my favorite tunes by the group.  “The End of Time is Near”, “Echoes From the Burning Bush”, “I Shall Not Be Moved” (another Swanee River Boys inspired arrangement), and “God Will Deliver” are all excellent songs by the group and highlights of the recording.  On the album, “Keep Your Eyes on Jesus”, you definitely hear a step up in the overall production quality and it appears that more effort was made to update the overall sound of the Inspirations.  I love the piano and guitar work on “I’ll Be Moving Away” and the folk feel of their version of “I Know”.  Speaking of folk, Ronnie’s interpretation of the folk sounding, “Tell it Again” is spectacular, and it remains one of my favorite Ronnie features.  I love the title song, “Keep Your Eyes on Jesus”, as well as their updated arrangements for 2 previous recorded numbers, “Hide Me, Rock of Ages” and “Just as Long as Eternity Rolls”.  One of the most unique songs on this album was “I Can Almost Hear Trumpets”, which actually includes trumpets, which is something you don’t hear on a typical Inspirations’ song…as they never used strings or brass in their music.  But it works on this song and it’s one of my favorites from this album.

The final 3 albums in this stack were their first with Canaan Records.  “Our Inspiration” was originally released on Mark V Records, but when they signed with Canaan, the record company re-released the album under Canaan Records.  I love the piano intro for “Oh What a Happy Day” and next to the Rambos’ version, the Inspirations’ version is my favorite rendition.  The bouncy “Beyond” remains one of my personal favorites from this album, as well as “Joshua”, “Amazing Grace” and “I’ll Live in Glory”.  Their next album on Canaan, “Wake Up in Glory” was released in 1972 and was filled with lots of energetic, up-tempo tunes such as “I’ll Wake Up in Glory”, “Oh, What a Day”, “I’ll Never Die”, “I’m Going Up”, “Rocked on the Deep” (a song Mike Holcomb recorded with Greater Vision on their “Quartets” recording from 2003) and “Everybody Will Be Happy Over There”.  Of course, there are some excellent heartfelt numbers such as “Where the Shades of Love Lie Deep”, “We’ll Be at Home Again” (another song with a bit of a Swanee River Boys feel) and “Obey the Spirit”.  Overall, this album is a highly enjoyable listen and is one of my all-time favorite Inspirations albums.  The final album, “Old Time Singin’”, was released the same year and followed a very similar pattern as “Wake Up in Glory”, and featured some really great up-tempo songs such as “Swing Wide the Gates”, “Keep Moving Along” (my favorite from this album), “I’ve Been Invited”, “The Best is Yet to Come”, “I Am Bound to Travel”, “Old Campmeeting Days” and “Rock my Soul”, which features a nice bass vocal by Troy Burns (a song that still plays a prominent role in their current set list).  They also recorded some excellent slower tunes such as “Just to Know”, “There’s a Beautiful Home” (the Greenes did a really great job with this song on their 1994 recording, “Fields of Greene”) and “I Won’t Have to Worry Anymore”.  One thing I’ll note here, I think these last 2 albums are the albums that solidified the Inspirations’ unique and identifiable style, as they are the most cohesive sounding albums thus far in their career.

I know it was a quick hit, but I hope you enjoyed this little walk through of the Inspirations’ first 13 albums.  I really could go much more in detail on each album, and I do plan to eventually go through all the Inspirations albums in a future series, but I did want to take a moment to highlight these records that are such a part of who I am.  These are the albums I grew up with that made me a fan of the Inspirations and made me fall in love with Jesus.

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James Hales

James Hales, from Durham, North Carolina, has been a writer for since 2000. James is our featured reviewer and also contributes to monthly features periodically.
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