Rediscovered: an occasional aria on some forgotten favorite.

The Nelons, Glad You’re Here. Like the Goodmans, the Nelons occupy a position in the history and development of sg that is difficult to understate. Reduced to it’s barest essentials, the case for the Nelon’s importance is bound up in what I call the TrioPlus method of group formation that Rex Nelon invented to carry his insubstantial bass voice and be a vehicle for his daughter’s talent. So the Nelons, three solid vocalists with a mediocre lowish singer, called themselves a mixed group and sang the earth and sky out of songs with unmixed magnificence (Bill Gaither and GVB, of course, later co-opted Rex’s TrioPlus design, though unlike Rex, Bill Gaither is simply a bad singer … when I was skimming around a Homecoming project the other day, I tried to make it through one of Bill’s solos - “These Things Shall Pass,” I think it was - and wow … his solo work consists mostly of speaking lyrics in a pseudo-melodic fashion … these things shall pass a lot more quickly than they were intended to because I hit the SKIP button). There are so many ways to rediscover the Nelons, so I thought I’d bypass the low-hanging fruit of the Karen Peck and Janet Paschal years and pluck something that is less flashy than a lot of the Nelons’ greatest stuff: Glad You’re Here, from the Charlotte Penhollow (and Stan Whitmire) era of the mid-nineties. The project is no show-stealer. Several tunes fall flat or trundle past with serviceable efficiency, and Rex Nelon’s voice is padded and stacked and feathered so much in places that it sounds like there’s a locomotive sitting outside the studio humming along with Rex on several endings (cf “No More Tears). But smartly sung and expertly played songs like “The Lord Stood by Me” (the back-up vocals and the piano here are impeccably balanced and so fresh and crisp) and fun reprises of old standards like “Time Has Made a Change” and “I’m Gonna Serve the Lord” make the project an enjoyable thing to return to every now and then. This was among the first projects the Nelons did after signing Mark Mathes to write for them, and the opening tune is a spiffy little Mathes number, “No More Tears,” which clips right along with some clever guitar licks and just a hint of the hammering ¾ time that the Goodmans beat into everyone’s memory with songs like “Thanks God I’m Free.” But the best song on the project, the tune that really showcases the Nelons’ distinctiveness, is “Only a Look.” Jerry Thompson is not in his best form on this project (you can practically see him jutting his chin out to reach up and unpleasantly pinch off just the lower parts of the high notes in the verses of “See What God Can Do”), but the remnants of his vocal greatness still resonate in his phrasing and inflection on “Only A Look.” The song ends up being much bigger and more powerful than it initially seems, since the instrumentation is easy and free, carefree, really, but unrushed, without being the least bit careless. But that unassuming power the Nelons perfected so well was never and still isn’t (thankfully) the bellowing roar of that locomotive (all the more reason it’s such an unwelcome intrusion elsewhere). Rather, the Nelons epitomize the clean lightness of solar energy: The chorus of “Only a Look” is classic Nelons, full of those long, expansive straight tones the Nelons perfected, so spotless and iridescent in capstone phrases like “… Can turn you, away … fruuhhmm sin!” (and it really does need that extra punctuation, too). Say what you will about Rex, he was a really smart fella for figuring out a way to create that bright airiness of the Nelons’ trademark ensemble sound, and he was a genius for creating something that has remained together decades and decades, even after his death.

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