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Vinyl Record Review: The Hemphills – Together (1984)

The Hemphills – Together (1984)

One of my all-time favorite albums by the Hemphills is this 1984 release, “Together”.  I first saw the Hemphills in concert at a big, multi-group event in Raleigh, North Carolina during the summer of 1984.  I saw them again in late summer/early fall of 1985 at Bethel Christian Center here in Durham, North Carolina, which is where I bought this album (along with their 1985 album, “Exited!”).  Both albums are very special to me and rank as 2 of my favorite albums by the group, I remember coming home from that service very excited to have these albums in my possession!

Their last few albums had been produced by the legendary country music producer, Jerry Crutchfield, but for “Together”, the group went in a new direction and Wayne Hilton was tapped to produce this album, along with Trent Hemphill (his first producing endeavor for the family).  At this point, the Hemphills were obviously comfortable with taking more creative control of their music, and along with Hilton, they produced one of their greatest works.  I asked Wayne what it was like working with the family in that capacity, and he readily admitted it was a unique situation as you’re dealing with a strong family dynamic as they were a very tight family, but they were exactly who you would have expected them to be and were a delight to work with.  For those unfamiliar with Wayne Hilton, he was a member of the Orrells during the late ’60s and 70s who churned out such hits as “Redemption Draweth Night”, “Jesus Will Outshine Them All”, “I Should Have Been Crucified” and “Tears Are a Language”.  Later in the ’70s, Hilton went on to work for the Oak Ridge Boys and their recording studio, Superior Sound.  Eventually, Hilton made his way to work for the Benson during the mid-80s and began working with their roster of artists which included such notable names as the Kingsmen, Speers, HeavenBound, Squire Parsons, Gold City Quartet, and the Hemphills.

Also worth mentioning is the cover shot and artwork.  While the cover isn’t what one would call flashy, it’s a very classy look and gives a very warm and “togetherness” ambiance, that fits the Hemphills branding.

The album kicks off with the highly enjoyable, “It Wasn’t Rainin’ (When Noah Built the Ark)”, which features some really nice acoustic guitar work, and also features one of my all-time favorite steel guitar breaks ever, played by the legendary Sonny Garrish.  Inspired by a church sign in the Nashville area that said, “Prepare now…it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark”, Joel immediately pulled the car over and wrote the song.  Featuring Joel with Candy bringing it home on the final chorus, the song was a huge hit for the Hemphills, spending 3 months at the #1 position in October, November, and December of 1984.  One thing that spurred chart success for the song was a contest that was run promoting the song, with the winner getting to enjoy an alligator hunting expedition with Joel Hemphill in Louisiana!

Slowing the pace down, Candy sings the verses on one of my personal favorite Joel Hemphill tunes, “Thank You Lord for Holding Me”.  With Joel taking the lead on the chorus, the song has a very warm and comforting feel to it, and for nearly 40 years, this song has brought me much peace and comfort.  I can’t count how many times I’ve sung this chorus to myself either out loud or in my spirit…“thank you Lord for holding, holding me, if it wasn’t for Your love no telling where I’d be, in Your arms I find there is such sweet serenity, thank you Lord for holding me”.  It’s such a great song and I’d love to hear the Isaacs’ take on this song…maybe one day!

With its hot bass track, the tempo picks up a bit as LaBreeska sings the fun and highly encouraging number, “Angel’s All Around You”.  With Candy providing her signature callbacks on the final choruses, this unique song is one that was enjoyed by young and old alike and was another extremely popular tune for the Hemphills, spending several months in the chart in 1985 and 1986, peaking at #5 in June and July 1985.  This was the first single featuring LaBreeska since “Never a Man Spake Like This Man” and “He Wrote My Name” from their 1976 album, “Without a Doubt”, and it was nice hearing her being featured on a radio song once again.

With the mandolin playing softly in the background, Joel sings “God Has Planned Heaven So Well”, with Candy duetting with Joel on the first chorus before the family joins in later.  The song’s simple feel recalls an earlier sound of the Hemphills and is a wonderful meditative song before Joey steps up to sing “The Son is Gonna Reign”, which is a song Joey co-wrote with Dale Matthews.  Closing out this side, I always loved this particular song, and it’s one of my favorite features by Joey.  Popular soloist, John Starnes recorded the song a few years later, on his 1989 recording, “Let the Hallelujah’s Roll”, and did a really great job with it.

Side 2 kicks off with the up-tempo, “Here’s a Little Good News”, which features Joel, Joey, and Candy.  Featuring a cool piano track, the song is a great inclusion for the album before LaBreeska delivers what would become one of her best-loved signature songs, “I Claim the Blood”.  Grieved by a certain denomination that was removing songs about the blood from their hymnbook, Joel wrote this song and was determined to include at least one “blood” song on every album going forward.  I love the steel guitar work on the song and though it was not a chart song for the group, it became one of their most popular songs, remaining a big part of their set list for the remainder of their time on the road.  The song did chart briefly though by another group called the McGlothlins a couple of years later in 1986.  Also, the Nelons did a really nice job with their rendition when they recorded it in 1994 on their “He’s My Comfort” recording and most recently it was recorded by the Perrys on their 2015 recording, “Sing”.  The song has become a staple in revivals and camp meeting services everywhere, as a battle cry for the church and saints all over the world!

Joey picks up the tempo as he steps up to sing, “I Am Determined” before Candy changes the mood as she sings the tender, reassuring message of Joel’s masterpiece, “Master of the Wind”.  Inspired during a dangerous trip through an ice storm with strong howling winds while the group was traveling through the state of Montana, Joel penned the words, “I know the master of the wind, I know the maker of the rain, He can calm the storm make the sun shine again, I know the master of the wind”.  The first ballad released by the Hemphills since “Consider the Lilies” in 1977, the song was a big hit for the Hemphills, peaking at #9 in the April 1985 Singing News chart, and has been recorded and sung numerous times over the years, including JD Sumner & the Stamps in 1992, and most recently by Becky Isaacs-Bowman on her solo recording, “Songs that Pulled Me Through the Tough Times”, where she is joined by Candy on the song.

Finishing out the album, is another Joel Hemphill worship classic, “The Only Real Peace”.  Originally recorded in 1982 on Candy’s self-titled solo album with a quicker tempo, for this particular performance, the tempo is slowed down to a more worshipful pace as the Hemphills perform the song live in front of a studio audience of Benson Company employees and backed by the Hemphills band which included Trent Hemphill on piano, James Gordon Freeze playing bass, Eddy Bell on drums and Gary Lowry on guitar.  The idea to record the song in this manner was a record company decision as a way of bringing the employees in and helping them be a part of what the label artists were doing.  While the song wasn’t a chart song, it’s been sung in churches and altar services around the world and remains one of Joel’s best-loved songs.

Along with “Together”, Candy released her second solo album in 1984 called, “Heart of Fire”, which was very different from her first solo album and was very, very different from what the Hemphills were doing.  Following a more contemporary route, Candy was creating her own musical path that was apart from the Hemphills.  Produced by Billy Smiley, the album definitely expanded Candy’s musical horizons as a singer as well as a songwriter, as she co-wrote 6 songs on the album with her dad and with various other songwriters.  

I imagine coming off the success of “Louisiana Live”, and also changing producers created a bit of a challenge for them.  For “Together”, the Hemphills came together and rose to the challenge, releasing one of their absolute best studio recordings, filled with fantastic songs, 9 of which were written by Joel, which was one of the most for a Hemphill’s studio album since their earliest days.  Boasting a #1 hit song along with two other top 10 singles, as well as a couple of other songs that became concert favorites, this album is a true Southern Gospel classic!

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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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