Review: The Nelons, Beside Still Waters
The Nelons: Beside Still Waters
At NQC in 1995, the Gaither Vocal Band was selling limited time pre-release editions of its Southern Classics, Vol. 2, Guy Penrod’s debut recording with the group. His big song on the album was “Count on Me,” a testimonial anthem with a fireworks climax built around Penrod’s gigantic range. On the version of the album sold at NQC, Penrod owned the song, start to finish, and it was magnificent. I can still recall huddling in the car outside the Louisville Airport Holiday Inn with friends listening to that track over and over. I think I may have shouted just a little the first time I heard the sound sample of a distant crowd roaring that’s looped into the track just before Penrod’s entrance on that transcendent second verse. Certainly I giggled deliriously. It was like hearing the cheering of a thousand me’s hardwired right into the song.
But on the album that went to retailers a few months later, Gaither himself took the first verse from Penrod, whose voice didn’t appear until after the first chorus. And thus did a great song become merely a really good one.
I was reminded of this story listening to the Nelons’ new project. Here’s a group with Kelly Nelon Clark, one of the most recognized names and beloved and capable voices in gospel music, joined now with the mature and increasingly gifted contributions of her oldest daughter, Amber. And yet over and over we’re left as listeners to wonder what song after song might have sounded like if, you know, the most talented members of the group had actually been featured.
Which is to say, Beside Still Waters might have more accurately been called The Jason Clark Show. Track 2, track 4 and 5 and 7 and 8 and 10 … by a rough estimation, at least half the album has
This dynamic will be no surprise if you’ve followed the Nelons since
There’s a certain pastiche quality to the sound of her solo voice, which clearly bears the trace influences of Miley and
Unfortunately the song selection fails to live up to the album’s sonic quality. Far too many of the tunes here are melodically turgid and lyrically formulaic (“love’s embrace” rhymes with “fears erased” and “cross of calvaRY” rhymes with “love of God for ME”). Up to a point, insightful or sufficiently hookey lyrics can salvage dead-end melodies, and original melodic lines and creative harmonies can redeem flaccid lyrics. But songs that are lyrically and melodically weak – and often sung at a funereal pace, as is the case here with “Love of God,” “Weep,” and “I Choose to Live” – tend to sully and muddle the album with too many emotionally pensive episodes of dour spiritual weather.
The amateurish songwriting was my complaint about the Nelons’ last southern gospel album, The Light of Home, and to be sure the problem is not as bad here. Beside Still Waters includes a couple of upbeat numbers that stand out on the album not least because they foreground the Nelons’ harmony, including “He Found Me” and “
But my favorite tune on the album has got to be the cover of Carroll McGruder’s foot-stomping old song, “I’m Going Home with Jesus.” In fact, it’s the one song I most wished I could hear, ala “Count on Me,” with the group’s stronger vocalist given the lead throughout. Here’s hoping Kelly Nelon Clark and Amber take turns taking command of the song live, which ought to absolutely knock the tops of their heads off.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that most of us will ever find out, unless you have a chance to hear them in concert as part of their fairly limited touring schedule. That’s because so far, the Nelons aren’t scheduled on the NQC mainstage. Sarah Palin is a NQC featured speaker, but you’ll have to sit through the Proclaimers, New Ground, and the Browns to hear a few precious minutes of the Nelons in the East Hall during prime
cocktail nap time on Friday afternoon. Alrighty then.
I have no desire to relitigate the dead-end debate about the indecipherable process by which artists are and are not selected for mainstage appearances. NQC owners have a right to give and withhold mainstage slots to whomever they wish. But it speaks powerfully to the degenerative state of the southern gospel industry’s vision of itself that the former half-term governor of
We may never know for sure why this sort of thing happens (the profit motive only goes so far as an explanatory framework), but the vagaries and mysteriousness of the process don’t make many of its outcomes any less outrageous or discrediting.
So until or unless NQC changes its mind, Nelons fan will have to make do with Beside Still Waters.Email this Post