As mentioned last week, changes were a’comin’, and “Feeling at Home” introduced a new face to the Rex Nelon Singers. Janet Paschal had left the group in the fall of 1981 and joined the Jimmy Swaggart organization, where she enjoyed a tremendous season in that ministry singing all over the world via world-wide crusades and weekly television appearances. After spending several years there, Janet struck out on her own and has enjoyed a phenomenal solo career; a career that earned her membership into the GMA Hall of Fame in 2019 as a solo artist. Taking Janet’s place was a young lady by the name of Karen Peck, who had been singing with Uncle Alf LeFevre and the LeFevres (formerly known as the Alphus LeFevre Singers), and Rex scooped her up and she became one of the most popular vocalists to ever grace a gospel music stage. Karen was a different singer than Janet was, and she ushered in a renewed popularity for the group that they enjoyed for the remainder of the 80’s. Janet gave the group a certain sophistication and grace, while Karen (being a Georgia girl), who also projected sophistication and grace, exuded all the southern charm one could offer, and she brought that to the stage and to her singing. Karen gave the group that distinct southern slant when needed, but she could also render the more contemporary sounds that the group was singing at the time, and she was a perfect fit for the group. As much as I loved the Janet Paschal era of the group, I have to admit, the time frame of 1982-1990 were my favorite years for the group and their music. I think the reason is two-fold…I truly loved the music the group released during this time and also these were my growing up years (10-18 yrs old) as well, and I have found that what I listened to during that time has truly stuck with me.
“Feeling at Home” was produced by Ken Harding, with Bergen White providing string and horn arrangements, as well as assisting with some of the vocal arrangements. Much like their last album, there are slew of musicians playing on this album, 12 musicians in total, not including those playing strings and brass. Again, much like “One Step Closer”, this album was a very progressive album, offering contemporary, country, southern gospel, and all other styles in between. It truly showcased the musical diversity of the group and despite the changes in their vocal line-up, they were marching forward, blazing brand new musical trails.
The album starts off with the fun and highly engaging tune, “Jesus is Your Ticket to Heaven”, which features Kelly. The song charted for several months in 1982 and 1983, peaking at #3 in April 1983. It was a highly popular song in concert and the group seemed to really have fun with it. For years I never knew it was a popular Ronnie Milsap song that he recorded on his 1981 album, “There’s No Gettin’ Over Me”. I didn’t follow country music that closely back in the day, and while I was familiar with Ronnie Milsap, it would be YEARS later that I discovered he originally recorded the song. If I were to have heard his version of the song during this time, I would have probably laughed and said, “Look at Ronnie singing a song by the Rex Nelon Singers!” (when it was actually the other way around!) But I digress…more recently though, Triumphant Quartet did an awesome job with their rendition of the song on their highly popular album, “Love Came Calling”, which came out in 2010.
Keeping with the country theme, the tempo slows down a bit as Rex sings another one of my favorite features by him, “Lord, I Hope This Day is Good”. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the song was a #1 hit in country music for Don Williams in late 1981. As I already mentioned, I didn’t follow country music too closely when I was growing up. I was familiar with the Statler Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys, Dolly Parton, etc., but we just didn’t follow country (or any other genre for that matter) too closely. Getting back to the song, I felt that Rex always seemed to shine on these types of songs and the song fit him like a glove. I love the warm feeling of the strings as well as the guitar work on the song, and it’s one of my absolute favorites from this album. It’s such an honest song with a genuine lyric that everyone can relate to.
Picking the tempo back up, Jerry does a fantastic job on the Nancy Harmon penned, “Name it and Claim It”. With its blatant Pentecostal/Charismatic undertones, it’s an exciting song with lots of energy, and Jerry does a great job on the song (which also features Karen Peck on the bridge) before Kelly steps back up to sing the Chris Christian penned, “Where Would I Turn”. This contemporary tune was previously recorded by the (then) “New” Gaither Vocal Band (featuring a young Steve Green) on their first group album that was released in 1981, but the Rex Nelon Singers’ version was my initial introduction to the song and it’s one of my favorites from this album.
Rounding out this side is a wonderful convention type song entitled, “Joybells”. With various step-out lines by Kelly, Rodney and Rex, the song was written by Letha Blankenship and published through Rex’s publishing company. It’s a highly enjoyable little ditty and it’s a song that still continues to show up once in a while, more recently by the Taylors (a group that has covered several Nelon classics over the years) on their 2010 recording, “Sing the Story”.
Karen Peck starts off side 2 with her only feature on this album on a song entitled, “The Wedding Day”, a great song written by Brent Lamb and recorded by contemporary group, Truth, the same year on their “Keeper of My Heart” album. This was everyone’s introduction to Karen Peck, and the song enjoyed good chart success peaking in the Top 10 during mid-1983.
Picking up the pace, Jerry sings the Dee Gaskin penned, “What a Singing”, which was a big concert favorite for the group during this time. This happy, clappy song was a wonderful inclusion for this album and is one of my favorites, before Rodney steps up to sing yet another favorite of mine, “How Do I Look Leaving This World”, which was written by Joan Ewing. This is my all-time favorite Rodney feature, and the song always struck me as an “in your face”, almost taunting type of song to those nay-sayers and non-Christians, but the song was very personal for me, for different reasons than most may think…as a young, and very awkward pre-teen and teenager at the time, I just never felt like I fit in anywhere and the message in the song brought me a lot of comfort and solace as I was struggling to just make it day to day as a Christian in middle school. It was a very tough time for me personally, and this song helped get me through those dark days. Thank you, Rodney and the Rex Nelon Singers, for being there for me!
Slowing the pace down, Jerry sings the warm, “The Future’s Looking Brighter” written by Colbert and Joyce Croft before the recording closes out with the Lee Roy Abernathy tune, “Way Up in Gloryland”, which features some nice piano work. Featuring Karen on the melody as well as some nice bass singing by Rex, this was another concert favorite for the group and a great conclusion to a fantastic record!
This album, with its highly progressive feel, was an extremely popular album for the group, garnering a Grammy nomination and was voted SG Album of the Year in the 1983 Dove Awards. Kelly won Female Vocalist of the Year at the 1982 Singing News Fan Awards, and Rex won Favorite Bass, as well as Male Singer of the Year. It was very uncommon for a bass singer to take home the Male Singer of the Year award, so Rex snagging that award was a milestone achievement. The only other bass singer to win that award was George Younce, which he won several years later in 1999 and 2000.
Around the same time that “Feeling at Home” was released, the group came out with a new independent album called, “I’ve Got My Foot on the Rock”. The album featured concert favorite (and title song), “I’ve Got My Foot on the Rock” (a song Karen popularized while singing with Uncle Alf LeFevre) along with a mix of newer tunes published through Rex Nelon Music such as “The Wedding in Mount Zion”, written by Diana (Perry) Gillette and her mom, Zena, “There’ll Be a Song in the Morning” penned by Nancy Harmon, “Glad Reunion Day” written by Dennis Bradley (the Florida Boys also did a splendid cut of this song on their 1981 album, “On the Right Track”), as well as other newer tunes such as Kyla Rowland’s “Thinking of a Mansion” and the Gordon Jensen penned, “Bring Back the New Again”. Rounding out the album were a few older tunes such as “Where You Gonna Hide”, “Getting Ready to Leave this World”, “Good News” and others. It was a very traditional sounding recording, contrasting what “Feeling at Home” offered.
I adored “Feeling at Home” when I first heard it as a 10-year-old kid, and it still ranks as one of my personal favorite albums by the group. My only complaint is I always felt the album was too short. It feels like it needs another song or two! Nonetheless, it was an excellent mix of country, CCM/Inspirational, Southern Gospel and even a bit of convention/campmeeting styles thrown in. Despite all these varying styles, the Rex Nelon Singers managed to create a very cohesive album that was very upbeat and filled with lots of creativity coupled with warm, inspiring messages that truly made you feel at home!
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