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VINYL RECORD REVIEW:The Hemphills – In God’s Sunshine (1977)

The Hemphills – In God’s Sunshine (1977)

1977 brought us one of the finest albums of the decade with “In God’s Sunshine”, which ranks as one of my all-time favorite albums by the Hemphills.  I first heard the album when I was a DJ in 1988 and I fell in love with it the first time I heard it.  I borrowed it from the radio station many times just to take it home and listen and relish in all it had to offer.  When I started collecting albums in the early 90’s, this was one of the first albums I added to my collection.  It’s an upbeat recording that has never failed to bring me joy each and every time I listen to it.

Produced by Phil Johnson with strings and woodwinds arranged by Joe Huffman, the album was a major step up in the overall production value compared to their previous albums.  Though used sparingly, the added orchestrations were such a tremendous enhancement and added to the overall warmth of the album.  With a list of such names as Pig Robbins, Ron Oates, Jack Williams, Weldon Myrick, Pete Wade, and others, Bruce Watkins (who was a member of the Hemphills band) is also credited with playing guitar, fiddle and banjo for the album, thus beginning his long career as a highly respected studio musician.  My hunch is Bruce played banjo on their last album (“Without a Doubt”), but he was uncredited, as no one is credited with playing the banjo on the album.

I have to mention the cover as well.  I love the casualness of the cover shot of the Hemphills with the family dogs, and the gothic-looking artwork was cool as well.  The cover gave little indication of what was actually contained within the record’s grooves, which was a masterpiece within itself.

The album kicks off with the upbeat testimonial, “That Night I Walked the Aisle”, which features Joel.  This is a great song depicting the wonderful salvation experience and is one of my favorites from this album.  I love the guitar work and the Pentecostal feel of the song, as it perfectly sets the mood for this recording with its bright tempo and happy message.

With its beautiful steel guitar intro and nicely arranged orchestrations, Candy does an outstanding job on Joel’s poetic masterpiece, “Consider the Lilies”.  Inspired by Matthew 6:25-34, Joel has stated many times that this is his favorite song he has written, and rightly so.  The song charted for over a year in the Singing News chart, peaking at #7 in March 1978, and not only became Candy’s signature song but was a defining song in the Hemphills career.  The song’s simple message continues to resonate with listeners today and is one of Southern Gospel’s classic gems.

With some nice electric guitar embellishments, the tempo picks up for the bouncy, “I Can Almost See the End from Here”, which features LaBreeska and Joel on the first verse, LaBreeska and Joey on the second verse, along with some step-out lines by Candy on the chorus.  The song was indicative of some of the vocal arrangements the Hemphills would use throughout the remainder of their career, which made them such a unique force in the industry.  When I first heard the song years ago, it wasn’t a favorite of mine, but over the years, this prophetic tune has become one of my favorites from this recording.

Next up, Joey steps up to sing the vulnerable lyric of the song, “Let Me Feel Your Spirit Once Again”.  With the feel of a country ballad, over the years this has become one of my personal favorite songs written by Joel, and it’s one we’ve all lived at one time or another (if we’re honest with ourselves).  Inspired by the story of the prodigal son, Joel penned this heartfelt prayer in song…“I remember victory in my soul, and the close sweet fellowship we shared…and though I’ve been neglectful Lord, You know where I’ve been, and I need to feel your spirit once again…Lord, I need to feel your power and the joy in my soul, and the sweet peace that only comes when Jesus has control, I don’t want to walk this road I know where it ends, and I need to feel your spirit once again”.  This is a song that is definitely worth singing again, and I would love to hear someone tackle this lyric sometime in the near future.

Closing out this side is a gem from the old Redback Hymnal, “Land of Perfect Day”.  With its wonderful “Pentecostal shuffle”, LaBreeska does a super job belting out the chorus of this happy tune, and of all the plenteous versions of this song that are out there, the Hemphills’ rendition is my personal favorite of this song.  When I first heard this album back when I was a DJ back in the late 80’s, I would play this song on the radio all the time.  I know you’re not supposed to play album cuts, but I was a teenager who didn’t know any better and just couldn’t help myself; it’s just a fun and highly enjoyable rendition of this classic song that has brought me immense joy over the years.

With a nice electric guitar intro (and outro) and highlighted by banjo accents which give the song a slight bluegrass feel, “Walking in God’s Sunshine”, which was written by LaBreeska, kicks off the second side.  Featuring the common arrangement with Joel taking the lead on verses and LaBreeska tackling the chorus, it’s a delightful tune that the Goodmans also recorded on their 1978 Grammy-winning album, “Refreshing”.

Slowing the pace down, Candy writes and sings the contemporary feel of the poignant and questioning, “Why Didn’t We Recognize the Son of God”.  With the feel of something Reba Rambo would have written and sung back in the day, Candy does a great job on the song.  Filled with nice steel guitar accents and orchestral embellishments, the song parallels those who crucified the Savior with those who saw Him on the Emmaus Road (though they did not recognize Him until he was gone), and the song begs us to reflect inwardly on ourselves as we question if we would recognize Him as the Son of God as well?  It’s a striking song and one of Candy’s best compositions.  

Featuring a nice banjo track, the tempo picks back up for “We’ve Got the Devil on the Run”, which features Joel.  Recalling the days of spirited revivals and prayer meetings, the song is a delightful song of triumph…“We’ve got the devil on the run now, we’ve got the devil on the run, he can’t stay when we pray singing what the Lord has done, there’s healing for the body, saving for the soul, and joy for those who have none, without a doubt, we’ve got a right to shout, we’ve got the devil on the run”.  It recalls the sound of the earlier days of the Hemphills and is a highlight of the recording.  I don’t know if the group ever staged this song, but if they did, I imagine it was an exciting part of their program.  

Slowing the tempo back down, the song “I’ll Wish I’d Done More” takes LaBreeska’s signature song, “An Unfinished Task” a bit further with the thought that when our life’s work is done, somehow, we’ll wish we had done more.  Beautifully enhanced by strings, this ranks as one of my all-time favorite features by LaBreeska, and you truly hear and see her heart as she sings this song.  Connie Hopper also did a splendid job when she recorded it on her 1984 solo album, “Jesus, You Just Made My Day”, as the song fit her like a glove as well!  Another person I hear singing this song is Libbi from the Perrys…maybe one day!

The bright and cheerful song of thankfulness, “Thank the Lord” rounds out the album with its fun piano, banjo and steel guitar accents.  In a reverse from the norm, Candy takes the first verse with Joel taking the second verse, and it’s a highly enjoyable song with a tune that will stick with you.

To my knowledge, “Consider the Lilies” was the only song from this album that was singled to radio and hit the charts, which surprises me as there are several other songs from this album that I believe had radio potential such as “That Night I Walked the Aisle”, “Walking in God’s Sunshine” and “I’ll Wish I’d Done More”…but I digress.  Nonetheless, this was a phenomenal album and proved the “new” Hemphills had managed to gel wonderfully together and had created their own unique sound.  Vocally, this was their most diverse album to date, as some of the vocal arrangements were more creative than what they had done in the past.  While the album wasn’t what I would consider as being progressive sounding, it showed tremendous creative growth in the group, and over the next few albums, we’ll see that creativity continue to expand.

“In God’s Sunshine” is truly a warm ray of sunshine, filled with bright songs of joy, strength, and comfort.  I don’t know of but a few albums that are as engrained in my heart and soul as “In God’s Sunshine” is.  Much like their 1974 album, “Sing the Glory Down”, this album is genuinely a part of me and the soundtrack of my life.  Honestly, while they would release some remarkable albums over the next few years, it would be a while before they would release an album that comes as close to affecting me as “In God’s Sunshine” did.

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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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