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VINYL RECORD REVIEW: The Hemphills – Hits (1989)

The Hemphills – Hits (1989)

The last recording the Hemphills released before coming off the road is this wonderful culmination of hit songs spanning their entire musical catalog.  I remember talking with them in the summer of 1989. This album was already in the works, and they were probably just getting ready to go into the studio and record it, as it was released before year’s end; but how appropriate that their final recording would be a capstone of their 20+ years of music!  This was the Hemphills’ first recording that was solely produced by Trent, and the overall sound and feel were very different than their last several recordings had been, giving me the feeling that it was a lower-budget release.  It was still a classy recording, and it was also a very good representation of what you would hear if you saw the Hemphills in concert during that time.  In fact, their band played on the recording…Trent on keyboards, James Gordon Freeze playing bass, Eddy Bell on drums/percussion and David Creech playing guitars.  Other musicians also played, including Gary Prim, Dirk Johnson, Bobby All, Scott Sanders, Sonny Garrish and Terry McMillan.  Notice that 3 of them are former musicians for the Hinsons…Gary Prim, Dirk Johnson, and Scott Sanders!

Since the group did not stray too far from the original arrangements on these songs, and I’ve already written about each of these songs in previous articles, instead of rehashing much of what I’ve said previously, I’m going to highlight some of the unique aspects of the recording and nuances of certain songs.

To start, LaBreeska turns in a masterful performance on the crowning jewel of the recording, “An Unfinished Task”.  I absolutely adore the steel guitar intro on the song, and while I had already heard the Hemphills original version of the song from their 1970 album, “Old Brush Arbor Days”, hearing her deliver the powerful lyrics in this updated version was the moment I truly fell in love with the song.  I remember they did release this as a single to radio stations, but sadly it never did chart.  As I’ve stated in previous articles, Southern Gospel fans are quite finicky when dealing with change, and I think had the group continued on, this would have been a chart song for the Hemphills.

Candy delivers the goods on her signature song, “I Came on Business for the King”.  Comparing her original version from 15 years prior to this updated version is like night and day!  I just love how she devours each word and totally re-imagines the song.  If memory serves me right, I had not heard the original version of the song when this recording came out, so this updated arrangement was my initial introduction to the song, and I fell in love with it at the start!

I love LaBreeska’s updated version of her testimonial, “I Learned About Jesus in Grandma’s Rocking Chair”.  Featuring a nice fiddle track, I love how LaBreeska ends the song with her fervently humming the chorus as the song fades out.  I have long wished they had just faded out the music, and left LaBreeska humming alone for a few bars, with the sounds of a rocker squeaking in the background.  But I digress…

Joey steps up to sing one of Joel’s earliest songs, “Pity the Man”.  Though Joel sang the original version from back in the 60’s, Joey does a fantastic job, putting his own unique touch to the song.  Joey also sings the second verse of the early classic, “I’ll Soon Be Gone”, which deviates slightly from the original version as well, as Joel had previously sung the second verse.

The remaining songs, “I’m Not Perfect (Just Forgiven)”, “I’m in this Church”, “Sing the Glory Down”, “He’s Still Workin’ on Me”, “Consider the Lilies”, “It Wasn’t Raining (When Noah Built the Ark)” and “I Claim the Blood”, were all done very well by the group.  As with these types of recordings, it’s always a bit subjective, but I don’t disagree with any of the song choices.  Nonetheless, I would have liked to have heard some updated versions of such songs as “Thank God I’m Free”, “Good Things”, “Well of Grace”, “Ready to Leave” and others.  I also would have liked to have heard a bit more creativity with some new arrangements, but even that can be a bit tricky when you start messing with classic hit songs.  

I bought this recording as soon as it was released, and I can’t say it was one of my absolute favorite recordings by the Hemphills, but at the time of its release, I did enjoy listening to it often, especially after realizing it would be their final recording.  Their band also released an instrumental recording around the same time called, “Band of Light”, which featured nice arrangements of hymns and classic songs such as “I Saw the Light”, “Victory in Jesus”, “Power in the Blood” and “I’ll Fly Away”.

Most gospel groups travel all 12 months of the year, usually taking time off around Christmas and for summer vacation.  At some point, the Hemphills started taking off every winter, as it was a time for them to rest and recuperate from the long and tiring touring season.  On January 19, 1990, the group had come together to discuss plans for the 1990 touring season, and during that family meeting, Candy, Joey, and Trent decided they did not want to tour anymore and wanted to settle down and enjoy a normal family life, leaving Joel & LaBreeska back to where they started, with just the two of them.  That day began a season of great change and turmoil for Joel and LaBreeska, as during a short span of time LaBreeska’s mom passed away after a very short illness and her beloved uncles Rusty and Sam Goodman passed away a few months later in November 1990 and August 1991, respectively.  Later in 1990, Joel was diagnosed with colon cancer and though the surgery was successful, a short time thereafter, Joel encountered some complications, after which he began a very long and courageous bout with severe depression, and over the course of a couple of years, remained highly medicated and was in and out of mental institutions.  Miraculously, Joel was delivered from the depression in November of 1992 and soon thereafter, he began writing songs again and he and LaBreeska began ministering once again in churches and revival meetings.  They eventually signed with Homeland Records and in 1995, released their first recording together as a duet since 1968, that was appropriately titled, “Partners”, and the two continued recording through the remainder of the 90’s and into the 2000’s.  They were also featured artists in many of Bill Gaither’s Homecoming videos.  LaBreeska also began co-writing with Joel more and eventually began writing books, and has 4 books to her credit, including, “Partners in Emotion”, which chronicled the Hemphills history and the long journey she and Joel took during his health crisis.  Sadly, LaBreeska passed away December 9, 2015.  Joel continues to write, sing, and minister when he is able, and has since re-married to his lovely wife, Christie.

After the Hemphills disbanded, Candy joined her husband, Kent, in ministry and has led a powerful ministry in Nashville, TN for the homeless called, “The Bridge”, and they pastor Regeneration Church in Nashville as well.  She has continued to record, sing, and perform as her schedule allows and was also a popular singer on the Homecoming videos as well. 

Trent and Joey settled into family life, while operating their own very successful business, Hemphill Brothers Coach Company.  Joel got into the bus business back in the 70’s and eventually his son’s dove headfirst into the industry and are one of the most respected coach companies for all types of entertainers and high-profile individuals.

The group has come together a couple times over the years, but sadly, that day in January 1990 marked the end of a truly remarkable era.  The world had been given a rare gift through Joel’s songs and the Hemphills music, and the impact of their indelible mark is still felt today.  The music of the Hemphills drastically affected me growing up and has ministered to me in many ways, and it reaches into the innermost part of my being still today.  I am grateful to each of the Hemphills for the impact they have made on me, as well as countless others around the world, and I deeply appreciate and highly respect their legendary place in history.

Please check out my music page on Facebook for more content related to Southern Gospel Music including more discography reviews on other groups, we well as other thoughts and discussions related to Southern Gospel Music.  Please like and follow my page at https://www.facebook.com/James-Music-Page-102612571620560. 

James Hales

James Hales, from Durham, North Carolina, has been a writer for AbsolutelyGospel.com since 2000. James is our featured reviewer and also contributes to monthly features periodically.
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