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VINYL RECORD REVIEW: Mike Payne – I’m Still Singin’ / Workin’ (1992/1994)

Mike Payne – I’m Still Singin’ / Workin’ (1992/1994)

I had originally planned to end this series on the Paynes with “God Wants You”, as that was the last recording the “original” group had released.  It also worked perfectly from a timing perspective with the end of the year as well.  As I was planning out this series and thinking everything through, I decided that I didn’t want to end there, as there was more to come during the 90s that was worth talking about.  Putting a slight wrinkle in my thought process was Mike Payne’s solo recordings.  In the discography reviews I’ve done on the Happy Goodmans, Hinsons, Rambos, Downings, Nelons and Hemphills, I haven’t focused on the various solo albums that the individual members of those groups had done, as they were mostly done in conjunction while the group was still actively touring and recording.  At some point, I may go back and catch some of those solo albums, but in the case of the Paynes, the group had disbanded in 1990, and Mike continued as a soloist for a few years, and really did a great job keeping that Payne Family music alive and well, despite being a soloist.  Since he was the primary vocalist for the Paynes and the fact that the music he released as a soloist was very similar in style to what the Paynes were doing, I felt it made sense to at least talk about his 2 solo recordings in greater detail, rather than just a passing mention in another article.  So, with that said, I’d like to spend a little bit talking about Mike’s 2 solo recordings, “I’m Still Singin’” and “Workin’”.

With the Paynes coming off the road at the end of 1990, Mike soldiered on for a few years with a successful preaching and singing ministry.  As schedules permitted, Loreen and their daughter Sandra would travel with Mike as well, and they would sing together on occasion.  In 1992, Mike released his first solo recording, aptly titled, “I’m Still Singin’”, which was a fantastic recording.  I was privileged to see Mike a few times during his stint as a soloist at a couple of Ray Flynn concerts at Reynolds Auditorium in Winston-Salem, NC.  He kept the crowd on their feet and was such a dynamic communicator as a soloist and was just as exciting by himself as he was with the group.  At each of those events, I can’t remember if Loreen was there, but I remember their daughter, Sandra, being there singing a couple of songs, and she always brought the crowd to their feet with her big voice.  One hilarious memory I have is seeing him on the same concert with the Perrys and the Wilburns at Reynolds Auditorium.  Mike had just sung the song, “I’m Still Dancin’”, and spent a few minutes preaching up a storm before going into an encore and he had that crowd in the palm of his hand.  When he got to the chorus on the encore, Jonathan Wilburn and Tony Peace came out from backstage from opposite ends of the stage and met in the middle behind Mike as he was singing, and they started doing the do-si-do, and the crowd just erupted in laughter and Mike just lost it and busted out laughing himself.  It was hilarious!

Of Mike’s 2 solo efforts, “I’m Still Singin’” is my personal favorite.  I love every song and felt it was an outstanding solo recording by Mike.  It was truly a group effort as his brother Keith Payne, produced the recording, Mark Payne assisted with the cover artwork and Loreen and Sandra both sing on the recording.  Mike wrote all of the songs on the recording, with the exception of two, “The Answer” and “I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel”.

From the exciting first song, “The Lord Himself”, the recording weaves through black gospel sounds with “God’s Gonna Fix It” (which Won by One recorded on their first recording that was released in 1995), the Pentecostal feel of the highly invigorating “I’m Still Dancin’” (which charted for Mike for a few months during the first half of 1993), the worshipful “Come Into the Holy of Holies”, the brisk feel of “Only God Can Move Mountains” (another song with a bit of a soulful touch to it), the Southern Gospel feel of “Gone With the Wind” (which also featured a bass step out line by Mike’s brother, Keith) and Mike’s classic tune from the early 80’s, “Nothing Can Hold Me Here” (which is my favorite rendition of this song).  The standout track on this recording is the haunting, “Walking the Streets”, which is an emotionally riveting story-song that addresses the very real problem of prostitution and it’s one of my favorite songs from the recording.  In fact, Mike also did a concept video of the song as well.

Also included on this recording, Loreen sings the country/bluegrass feel of “The Answer”, and we are then introduced to Mike and Loreen’s daughter, Sandra, as she sings the Dawn Thomas penned classic, “I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel”.  Rendering an outstanding performance, this was the industry’s first glimpse into the phenomenal voice of Sandra Payne, who was still just a teenager at the time.  It amazes me the massive and powerful voice this young lady possessed at such a young age (and can still belt it out like nobody’s business!).  Sandra would play a pivotal role as a vocalist in the revamped version of the Paynes that would come later in the 90’s.

This album yielded a couple of excellent radio singles, “The Lord Himself” and “I’m Still Dancin’”, but neither garnered huge chart success, which I never understood, as both songs were excellent radio friendly tunes.  Though it’s not as prevalent today as it was in the past, Southern Gospel audiences has a tendency to be finicky when it comes to soloists, so I am sure that may have played a role in things.

Mike’s second solo recording, “Workin’” was released in 1994 and followed a very similar formula as his first recording, once again enlisting his brother Keith Payne, as producer, the recording also included Loreen and Sandra singing as well.  Much like Mike’s last recording, “Workin’” featured a few minor chart songs, but nothing yielded any Top 20 or Top 10 hits, which was something I never fully understood.

As one who was never afraid of making a bold statement, the recording kicks off with the title song, “Gonna Start Workin’ Like the Devil”.  Stylistically and lyrically, it was totally within Mike’s wheelhouse and the song resonated well with Mike’s audiences.  Having seen Mike perform this song in concert, this was one of those songs much like “That Same Spirit”, “Angels Step Back”, “I’m a Jesus Fan” and “I’m Still Dancin’”, where he could really involve himself into and have the audience completely involved with him.  If I’m not mistaken, this was the first radio single from the recording, but it never did chart.

“I Just Throw Up My Hands” (which Mike co-wrote with Loreen) and “Wasn’t That Love” were released later and they both charted briefly in the Top 40 in 1996.  Both songs had that signature “Payne Country” sound and were highlights of the recording.  Another song that was reminiscent of that Payne style was the soulful, Pentecostal shuffle of “It’s Not What Death Did to Jesus (It’s What Jesus Did to Death)”.

Loreen is featured on the song “Cleansing Tears”, which was written by April Nye, and the song fit Loreen like a glove.  Mike and Sandra do a phenomenal job duetting on the song “Jesus Rescues Me” and it is truly a highlight of the recording, as is Sandra’s absolutely incredible performance on the song “No Heart, Too Hard For Him”.  With its Floyd Cramer style piano and Sandra’s incredible delivery, the song has a very distinct Patsy Cline feel to it.  This was the crowing jewel of the recording and was such a delightful and cleverly done song.

Contemporary group, 4 Him, was running high with their hit song, “The Basics of Life” and Mike turned in his own rendition of the song and it was a perfect fit for him.  Other songs include the up-tempo, “Ain’t it Amazing” as well as a revived version of one of Mike’s older tunes, “The Race”.

Both solo efforts were excellent recordings and I felt they represented Mike very well.  During this time, Mike wasn’t signed to a major record label, and I think if he had a major label backing him, chart success may have been easier for him.  The music industry can be a beast sometimes, especially for independent artists, even in Southern Gospel circles, but I digress…

As previously mentioned, Loreen and Sandra would travel and perform with Mike from time to time, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for them to come together and formally reinvent the Paynes as a family unit with just the three of them; and by 1996, that is exactly what they did.  While they didn’t travel as extensively as they did during the 80’s, the music they did was very different from the original group, highlighting the amazing soulful voice of Sandra Payne.  Next week, we’ll talk about the 2 studio recordings they did for Daywind Music, and the unique music they made during this time.

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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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