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VINYL RECORD REVIEW: The Hemphills – Revival (1987)

The Hemphills – Revival (1987)

One of the most popular albums in the Hemphills’ discography was this gem from 1987 titled, “Revival”.  Featuring a classy cover shot of the group, the soft pastel color pallet of the cover perfectly contrasted the vibrant colors of their last 2 album covers.  By the time this album came out, I had discovered Paul Heil’s radio program, “The Gospel Greats”, on a local radio station and first heard some of the songs from this album on his show when the Hemphills were the featured artists.  I loved hearing the songs, as well as hearing some of the stories behind those songs from that show.  What I heard that day deeply affected me, and the first concert that I attended after I became in DJ in the spring of 1988, was on July 16, 1988, in Raleigh, NC with the Hemphills (Candy was actually very close to giving birth to her first child) and Wendy Bagwell & the Sunliters.  Upon my arrival at the venue, Joel and LaBreeska were the first people I interviewed for my little radio show.  I was pretty star-struck to actually be talking with these people, and both groups treated me very kindly and left a huge impression on this 16-year-old kid, making me feel like I was someone special.

With Lari Goss and Trent Hemphill once again producing, “Revival” was a classy representation of the Hemphills’ music, and further reinforced the changes in their vocal structure to a more traditional arrangement with each singer carrying the lead/melody for an entire song, which is different than what a lot of the Hemphills songs had been arranged in the past, which mostly centered around Joel carrying the melody with the others carrying the respective solo’s.  Even with this change in their vocal arrangements, the sound and style of the Hemphills were not lost at all but were beautifully enhanced, further reinforcing the fact that they were one of the greatest mixed groups in our genre.

The recording kicks off with the campmeeting feel of the title song, “Let’s Have a Revival”, which went on to become one of the Hemphills biggest and best-remembered hit songs, peaking at #3 for 4 solid months from March until June of 1988.  The song features nice piano, harmonica, and guitar embellishments along with that trademark Hemphill sound with Joel taking the lead and Candy showing out with step-out lines on the final choruses.  Joel was inspired to write this song from a powerful word of prophecy he received back in 1986 after the Hemphills went through a rough spiritual storm.  Joel also felt compelled to share that prophecy with several groups to help them experience revival in their own ministries.  Spurred by the spirit of revival, Joel & LaBreeska also began having Tuesday night prayer meetings at their house and several people in the music industry attended, not just from gospel, but from all areas and genres of the music industry.  This continued for a few years and was well attended each week.

Candy slows the tempo down for the prophetic power anthem, “Can You See the Clock”, which Joel wrote with their producer, Lari Goss.  The song also features some nice callbacks and vocalizations by Candy, which add tremendously to the unique dynamic of the song.  The Hoppers recently enjoyed success with their version of the song from their 2022 recording, “Believe”, and Kim did a fantastic job with her delivery of this powerful lyric.

The tempo picks up as LaBreeska sings the fun, camp meeting feel of, “I Wonder Where They Go”.  Over the years, Joel was inspired to write songs from dreams he had, and this song was inspired by a dream he had of LaBreeska preaching and singing the song behind the pulpit, after he awoke, he wrote the song!  The song features some nice guitar and piano work and is a highlight of the recording.

Penned by Joel and Lari, the contemporary feel of the song “Coming Back”, which features Joey, is a magnificent tune about the prodigal.  I love the message of this song as it reflects the life of many Christians…“it seems I’ve spent my lifetime coming back, saying Father please forgive me for getting off the track, sometimes I am weak and for a moment I get slack, it seems I’ve spent my lifetime coming back”.  Joey does a great job interpreting the lyric and it’s one of my favorite Joey features.

With its strong beat and pumping bass track at the beginning, the exciting vibe of the upbeat, “Minute by Minute”, closes out this side on a climactic high.  With its bluesy harmonica track, I love the dynamics of the song and how it builds on the final choruses…“I’m gonna live it, minute by minute, minute by minute, day by day, walking with Jesus minute by minute, I can live the glory way!”  The song was very different musically, for the Hemphills and is a highlight of the recording.  JD Sumner & the Stamps did a really great job with their version of the song on their 1992 recording, “Master of the Wind”.

With an almost Christmassy feel, side two kicks off with the highly enjoyable, “Ring the Bells”.  Featuring Candy, when I saw the Hemphills in July 1988, they kicked off their set with this song and it was a perfect lead-off song.  Another song inspired by a dream, Joel dreamed the Hemphills were on stage, and he turned and told the band to kick off “He’s Still Workin’ on Me”, but instead the band kicked off “Ring the Bells” and he woke up with the words and melody from the dream still in his head and immediately wrote the song.  This was the second single from this album, and ironically (with its Christmassy feel), it peaked at #4 in December 1988.

Slowing the pace down with its steel and electric guitar and haunting harmonica intro, LaBreeska steps up to sing, “All in the Blood of Jesus”, a song Joel co-wrote with Wayne Woodall.  This was a popular song from the album and in fact, Ed Hill did a splendid job when he recorded it on one of the Master’s V final recordings, “The Legend Lives On”, which was released in 1988.

Joey is featured next on one of my personal favorites, “Run to Jesus”, which Joel wrote with Lari Goss.  With a hot bass track along with harmonica, electric, and steel guitar embellishments, the song is aimed at those running from the Lord…“with all your running, run the Jesus”.  I love the descriptive lyric and it ranks as one of my favorite Joel Hemphills-penned songs before Candy is featured on the hauntingly beautiful prayer in the song, “You Loving Me”, which she wrote with her dad.  Featuring a very soothing and mesmerizing acoustic guitar and keyboard track (with some very light steel guitar highlights interspersed throughout), it was a very different type of song for the Hemphills.  I will admit it took me some time to really appreciate the song, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to value the musicality of the song and its message…“I guess it’s just You loving me, always giving more than Your share, just like You did on the tree…there’s really a love…it’s You loving me”.

Rounding out the recording is the bluegrass feel of the up-tempo prophetic song, “The Weather Forecast”, which features Joel.  Featuring guitars, harmonica, and dobro, it’s a nice and upbeat conclusion to one of the Hemphills most popular albums.

As mentioned, this would be one of the Hemphills most popular albums, spawning 2 Top 5 singles and several popular concert favorites for the group.  “Revival” would be the Hemphills’ last album on the RiverSong label, as after about 14 exciting and fruitful years under the Benson umbrella, the group would move on to a new and exciting label, under the direction of their friend, Bill Traylor.  Traylor, who began RiverSong Records in 1983 and headed up the label under the Benson Company when Benson acquired the label in 1986, would leave the Benson Company to create another label, Homeland Records, in 1988.  This created quite a buzz in the industry, as when he left the Benson Company, the Hemphills, Cathedrals, Rusty Goodman, Henry & Hazel Slaughter, and Speers all followed him to his new label.  There would be a 2-year span before the Hemphills would release a new album, but when 1989 rolled around, the group released another fantastic album that would be cause for great celebration!

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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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