The Hemphills – Home Cookin’ (1979)
After “In God’s Sunshine” was released in 1977, it would be 2 years before the Hemphills would release a new recording. The group was enjoying the successes of their last few albums, so it wouldn’t be until 1979 that the Hemphills would come out with their next recording entitled, “Home Cookin’”.
Living up to the title, “Home Cookin’”, the album was truly a group effort with Joel at the helm as producer and the Hemphill’s band handling the music tracks. Once again, Joe Huffman assisted with string arrangements for the album. This album was like a playground for the Hemphills, as they appeared to have creative control over much of the album, though Phil Johnson is clearly in the background as he is listed as Executive Producer. The Hemphills boasted a 5-piece band by this time which consisted of Gary Smith on piano, Trent Hemphill on bass, Michael Allen on drums/percussion, Jerry Burnside playing guitar, and Glen Paul on steel guitar. For this album, they enlisted the help of family friend, Joe Edwards to play fiddle and banjo. A few words about Gary Smith, whose brother, Jack Smith played steel guitar with the Happy Goodmans…Gary was an excellent piano player who eventually made his mark in the country music field and went on to work with such names as Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Ricky Skaggs, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Randy Travis and many others. Sadly, both Gary and Jack passed away in 2014, but their legacy lives on through the wonderful music they made. I remember I first became aware of Gary Smith back when I was a teenager in the late 80’s, from his outstanding piano break on Jeff & Sheri Easter’s fantastic song, “There’s a Higher Power” from back in 1987. I remember being enamored by that piece and loved his work on that album.
With the concept in place for “Home Cookin’”, everyone even chipped in with songs as Joel penned 5 songs for the album, Candy wrote 2 and Joey and LaBreeska contributing 1 song each. Also, true to the concept of the album, the cover was shot in Joel and LaBreeska’s dining room, but according to an interview LaBreeska gave several years ago asking if she fried the chicken that is clearly in the cover shot, she quipped back, “No, ‘Churches’ did!” HA!
The album kicks off with the up-tempo classic, “I’m in this Church”, which was nicely accented by strings and features both Joel and Candy. The song went on to become the Hemphills first #1 song in July 1980, and it also spent about a year sitting in the Top 5! Joel was inspired to write the song after pondering salvation and the fact that it’s not about joining a church or a group. As Joel thought through what Jesus told Nicodemus, that you must have a new birth and because of that new birth, you have a new outlook on life and a greater love for the heavenly Father and His Son. It was a happy song and has gone on to become one of Southern Gospel’s true classics. In fact, the Happy Goodmans recorded a jazzed-up version of the song on their 1979 album, “Better Hurry Up”.
Accented with strings and steel guitar, the tempo slows down as Candy steps up to sing the simple, yet profound and comforting message of “Somebody Up There Loves Me”, which is one of my favorites from the recording, and one of my favorite Candy features. I love that final key change in the song, and you definitely hear the growth in Candy as a singer and communicator as she does a great job communicating the encouraging message of the song, before the tempo picks up a bit for the western swing feel of, “The Carpenter From Nazareth”. Written by and featuring Joey, the song features a nice steel guitar track as well. As with Candy, you can hear the growth in Joey as a singer as well, as he does a really great job song delivering the goods on this song.
Back in 1975 on their “One Live Family” album, LaBreeska sang a song Joel wrote for her called, “I Learned About Jesus in Grandma’s Rocking Chair”, and for “Home Cookin’”, Joel built on that thought and wrote her another song as LaBreeska sings the enjoyable, “The Kind my Grandma Had”, and it’s a highlight of the album. I love the down-home country feel of the song as it features some really nice guitar, piano and fiddle work as well.
The first side concludes with the ¾ tempo campmeeting feel of “He’ll Lead Me All the Way”, which features both father and son, Joel on the first verse and Joey on the second verse. The song had a typical feel for some of Joel’s writings, falling in line with such songs as “On the Way Up”, “Sweet Zion’s Song”, “It’ll Be Worth Every Mile of the Trip”, etc. I enjoy the encouraging message in the song…“over the mountains, through the valleys, whatever storm may rise, I’m held by His hand, part of His plan, safe in His watchful eye, my assurance, His blessed assurance, I feel it each time I pray, and He who brought me safe this far will lead me all the way”, and I felt it was a great song to round out the first side.
Continuing with a happy vide, the second half of the album kicks off with the highly enjoyable up-tempo song, “Showing My Appreciation”, which features Joel. Featuring some nice guitar and piano licks and on the final choruses, Candy is also featured doing some call backs, which was a brilliant trick of the trade the Hemphills utilized quite often as Candy’s voice continued to develop and get stronger. I always loved it when they did this, as I felt that it added a bit of pizazz and charisma to the song and was something that made the Hemphills unique.
Speaking of Candy, she is up next as she slows the tempo down to sing her own song of praise, “You Make Me Want to Sing”, which was the typical style of song that Candy excelled at singing back during this time. I love the country balladry feel of the song as it perfectly highlights her voice and unique style of delivering a lyric.
With a nice electric guitar track, LaBreeska takes the lead on her self-penned song, “It’s a Beautiful Day”. It’s a nice “feel good” song with a good Southern Gospel feel to it, before Candy is featured once again on the contemporary ballad, “He’s Nothing Less Than Wonderful”, which was another song she had written for this album. The song is nicely accented by strings and was a fine inclusion for this album.
For most their recordings throughout the 70’s and into the early 80’s, the Hemphills always included at least one “old” song, and as they close out “Home Cookin’”, Joel takes the lead once more with the song, “Beautiful Lights Along the Shore”. I like how the song starts with the bass drum kicking in the beat and the piano, bass, and the solemn strains of the steel guitar chime in before the group kicks off the chorus. The song is credited as “Unknown” for the songwriter and I’ve been unable to find any info on the song but would love to know its history, as I don’t know of anyone else that has recorded the song. It sounds like something the Chuck Wagon Gang would have sung, but nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable tune closing out the album with a nice mellow, country feel.
This was a big “coming out” album for Candy, as in addition to her 3 big features, she is also highlighted prominently throughout the album on other songs by either taking a verse here, or adding some vocal embellishments there, which proved she was not just a one-dimensional singer! Candy was definitely coming into her own as a true vocal stylist and she shined brightly on this album.
In my opinion, the overall feel of the album is kind of a mix between “Without a Doubt” and “In God’s Sunshine”. While not quite as slick sounding as “In God’s Sunshine”, there are definitely some elements of creativity that put it a step ahead of other albums out there on the Southern Gospel marketplace, but it does have a bit of a “down home” feel to it like “Without a Doubt” did.
“Home Cookin’” was a recipe for success, as this album became one of the Hemphills’ most popular albums, and I think most of that was due to the fact this was clearly “their” album and showcased the group as you would have heard them in concert at that time. It was a feast for the ears and for the heart, as the Hemphills collaborated together to create a menu that satisfies the heart, soul and mind!
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