Rex revisited

I’ve already gotten some pretty strident and/or emphatic responses about my rediscovery on the Nelons last night. Upset reader TG called the whole piece “useless,” “unfair and stupid,” while enthusiastic reader TK wrote to tell me that I “rock” as regards the Glad You’re Here comments. But hawkeyed reader JH wrote to give an impassioned defense of Rex Nelon’s voice, whose quality I called into question:

I have to completely disagree with you on the Rex Nelon piece. Rex Nelon was one of the finest bass singers. He was in his prime in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Rex was one the greatest bass singers. He wasn’t ultra low, but he could tote the mail. He was solid and provided the Nelons with a solid foundation for their high harmonies. Not many bass singers can render a solo…but Rex could carry his own with a solo. His performance of “Leaning Place”, “Lord I Hope This Day is Good”, “The Seeker”, “That’s Why I Love to Call His Name” and “Chains of Yesterday” are unparalleled. His emcee work was more than adequate as well. While I agree with you on Bill Gaither…I felt you may have diminished the wonderful talents of Rex Nelon. He far exceeded many bass singers who pushed to sing as low as they could go. He just stood there, sang his part and did it excellence and dignity.

First off, I love the phrase “tote the mail.” As I told JH, that’s a thievably fine line. Second, JH and I agree totally about Rex’s emcee work, which was first-rate. I should’ve found a way to say as much in my initial post. Third, I’ve only met one other person who thought anything like the same things I do about Rex, and she’s dead. That said, it’s one thing to say a person can’t sing (I’d wager Bill Gaither belongs in that class) and quite another to say, as I suggested about Rex Nelon, that his voice was often mediocre (especially in comparison to the exceptional talents he had singing with him) and wasn’t well suited for the demands of sg, either traditional or the stuff he and the Nelons sang. No matter, if you want an example of a bass singer, a REAL bass, rendering a solo line … listen to Gene MacDonald on GV’s Quartets project (live or studio versions) or to Chris West on “Another One Like him” on MM’s new project (MNP writes to say that West’s work on this song is so fine she can’t stop listening to it: ” I can’t stand it!!!,” she says of the song, “It’s like an addiction. The bass has incredible vibrancy on nearly every note he sings – just listen to it … quite unusual for a bass in sg. The straight tone is so common to sg and jazz, and when used well (intentionally for effect), it works great – the rest of the time it just indicates to me a mediocre instrument/interpretation of style. However, I’m blown away by the solo voice from this kid from Jasper, AL … They sure grow ‘em fine down there! I’m hoping to move to another track sometime next week … we’ll see”). Whatever Rex was doing on the songs JH lists, and I agree Rex certainly turns in technically accurate performances, I don’t see how you can put the performance or Rex himself in the same class of “bass” singing as these others.

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