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VINYL RECORD REVIEW:The Hemphills – Workin’ (1980)

The Hemphills – Workin’ (1980)

Riding on the heels of their successful “Home Cookin’” album, the Hemphills released this groundbreaking album in 1980 called, “Workin’”.  At this point, the Hemphills were one of the most popular mixed groups on the circuit, even having their own television show, “Hemphill Family Time”, which won a Dove Award in 1980 for “Best Television Program”!  Their popularity caught the eye of legendary Country Music producer, Jerry Crutchfield, who has produced albums for Lee Greenwood, Tanya Tucker, Dottie West, Tammy Wynette, Glen Campbell, and many others.  Crutchfield, who was looking to expand his repertoire and produce some gospel artists, approached the Hemphills about producing their next album and that relationship spurred some exciting music during the early 80’s for the Hemphills.

With Jerry Crutchfield at the helm as producer (and Joel Hemphill making final decisions as the Executive Producer), the Hemphills released their most ambitious recording to date.  “Workin’” was a top-shelf production that featured slick arrangements, ear-catching music tracks and some of their best singing found on record.  “Workin’” was the total package and was just a phenomenal album all the way around.  In keeping with the concept of the album’s title, the cover shot was a stroke of genius as well.

The album kicks off with the warm feel of the smash hit song, “He’s Still Workin’ on Me”, which stayed in the charts for nearly 2 years and went on to sit at the #1 position for 8 months from December 1980 through July 1981.  Featuring Candy and Joel, and a host of friends on the final choruses, the song was inspired by a bumper sticker that said, “Be patient, God is not finished with me yet”.  Joel ended up writing the song sitting on a deer stand while on a hunting trip in Louisiana.  When he finished the song, he got down out of the deer stand, found a pay phone and called LaBreeska, and sang it to her.  The song was voted by the Gospel Music Association as one of the Top 10 Songs of the Year for 4 years straight in 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983!  “He’s Still Workin’ on Me” has gone on to become one of Southern Gospel’s legendary songs that has reached far beyond the boundaries of our genre and has circled the globe many times over.  What has made the song such a huge success is the simplicity of the lyrics, which is one of the hallmarks of Joel’s songwriting.  Joel writes songs that people can understand and relate to, and it amazes me how he can take such profound theological ideas and wrap them up in such uniquely written and simple songs!  People from toddler age to 100 years old can quote this song and sing along with it…a testament of a great song!

One of the most unusual songs the Hemphills ever recorded is the cute novelty tune, “Rusty Ole Halo”, which features Joel and Joey dueting on the verses.  Written by Bob Merrill and originally recorded by Mahalia Jackson back in 1954, the song saw a resurgence in the late ’70s when country artist Hoyt Axton recorded the song and had a decent hit with it in the country charts.  I love the music track for the song and it’s very different for the Hemphills, but it works for them and was a fun inclusion for the album.

Keeping the tempo upbeat, LaBreeska’s only feature on this album is the country feel of the fiddle and electric guitar-infested tune, “God Still Loves the World”.  It’s a nice feel-good song with a timely message, and it is sort of a precursor to their mid-80s hit song, “God Likes People”.  As Candy and Joey began taking on more features, naturally as a mom, LaBreeska would step back and take on less solos.  As a huge fan of LaBreeska, I miss her voice at the forefront, and for the next few albums, her features would be at a minimum; but sit tight for a bit, as she has some more outstanding songs coming in the next few years that would showcase her as the outstanding singer and communicator that she truly was!

Candy slows the tempo down as she sings her self-penned tune, “I Am Beautiful in His Eyes”.  Starting with just piano accompaniment and having a strong soulful feel, the song builds with intensity as the song moves along.  Candy performs the song as a solo, and it’s a diva-worthy performance as she does an outstanding job belting out the encouraging message of the song.  It’s with this song that Candy solidifies herself as a true artist and proves she is all grown up, and the song is a highlight of the album.

Rounding out this side, the Hemphills brought back one of Joel’s earliest songs, “There’s Been a Lot of Changes”.  The song is given an overhaul by speeding up the tempo and it features Joey on the verses, with Joel taking the lead on the chorus, and Candy taking it home on the final chorus.  I love this updated re-make, which features outstanding steel guitar and electric guitar work throughout the song.

The medium tempo “Carry on Church” kicks off the second side.  Featuring Joel and having Joey and then Candy doing callbacks on the final choruses, the song is an encouragement to the church to press on in these last days.  It was a popular song for the Hemphills, charting for a few months, but never quite making it to the Top 20.  I’ve always loved the encouraging message in this song, and I especially enjoyed the live version from their 1983 “Louisiana Live” album, which is the version that I first heard as a kid, because I didn’t have the “Workin” album until sometime in the mid-90s.

As Joel was expanding his writing style, he began to pen some really great simple praise songs, and I always thought “Visit Us Now” was one of the neatest songs of praise.  One of the first of its type for Joel and the Hemphills, the songs’ simplicity is part of its charm and Joel does a great job with it before the tempo picks up slightly for what is probably my favorite song from this album, “Blow Ye the Trumpet”, which features Candy.  I love the music track for this song, but I initially fell in love with it when I first heard it on their 1983 live album.  One of the most singable choruses of any song out there…“Tell your children and your children’s children, of the second coming of our King, He will stand upon the mount of olives, salvation to a dying world to bring”…though Joel didn’t write it, the song resonated well with Hemphill fans as it charted briefly in 1981 and became a popular concert favorite.  

One of Joey’s best-recorded features is the worshipful, “Undeserving of Your Love”.  Much like Candy’s performance on “I Am Beautiful in His Eyes”, Joey really came into his own as an outstanding vocalist on this album and with this song.  It’s truly a highlight of the album and one of my absolutely favorite Joey features.  I really like the musical outro of the song as well and think it would have been a perfect closing song for the album, but…with fiddles blazing, the album closes out with the campmeeting favorite, “Fill My Way with Love”.  The song features both Joel and Candy and it’s a really happy and enjoyable song to round out the album.

“Workin’” was a very upbeat record (and a relatively short one, clocking in at just over 26 and a half minutes), filled with songs to put a kick in your step and encourage you in your walk with Christ.  From a creative perspective, this was their most trailblazing album yet, as it was a very forward-thinking album filled with great songs all done exceptionally well.  I love the music tracks for this album and the Hemphills do some of their best singing to date.  The album has a very crisp feel to it and the overall production value was way ahead of most SG recordings on the marketplace.  Their producer, Jerry Crutchfield really pushed the group and brought out the best in the Hemphills, especially Candy and Joey, as this album showcases them at their absolute finest.  The hard work paid off for the Hemphills, as the album won the Dove Award for “Southern Gospel Album of the Year” in 1981 and is one of the true classics for our genre, and one of my personal favorites by the Hemphills.

Changes were also happening within the group around this time as well, as Trent moved up from playing bass guitar to playing the piano.  Trent was already the “band leader”, so after Gary Smith departed the group, Trent took over the piano to help give the Hemphills a more cohesive sound in the band.  Also, Trent was already working on musical arrangements for the group, and eventually, as the Hemphills took more creative control of their music, Trent would assist with the production aspects of their records as well.

Speaking of records, before 1980 was done, Heartwarming Records released “The Best of the Hemphills”, which featured some of their best-known songs including “Consider the Lilies”, “Sing the Glory Down”, “He Wrote My Name”, “Ready to Leave” and “I’ll Soon Be Gone”.  The album also includes some unique versions of “Thank God I’m Free” (it appears to be the current group singing with the music track from the “Ready to Leave” album), an updated studio version of the songs “I Learned About Jesus in Grandma’s Rocking Chair” and “Pity the Man”, and what appears to be an updated vocal by Candy to the original live cut of, “I Came on Business for the King” (amazing what you can do in a studio!).  It’s a unique album and not your normal “best of” collection.

These were definitely exciting times for the Hemphills, as they were one of the hottest groups on the circuit and one of the most popular mixed groups at the time.  Along with the Hinsons and Rex Nelon Singers, they were blazing new trails and releasing music that appealed to a broad spectrum of listeners.  With “Workin’”, the dye had been set, and the Hemphills would continue to remain one of the top mixed groups in our genre for the next 9-10 years.

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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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