The Happy Goodman Family was founded in the 1940’s by Howard ‘Happy’ Goodman. In 1964 they began appearing regularly on ‘The Gospel Singing Jubilee’ program. Eventually they had their own TV program. Howard, wife Vestal, and brothers Rusty and Sam Goodman, released their first full length album I’M TOO NEAR HOME in 1963. It was picked up by Canaan/Word Records in 1965. In 1968 the group won a groundbreaking Grammy Award for their album ‘The Happy Gospel of the Happy Goodman’s’. The next year, Vestal won the first ever Female Vocalist of the Year Dove Award. Rusty died in 1990, with Sam following him the next year. In 1996 Howard and Vestal revived the group along with Johnny Minick, who’d been a member in the 70’s. Their last project was 2001’s THE FINAL STAND. Howard died in 2002 and Vestal followed in 2003. Fast forward to 2014 and we have Goodman Revival, a trio. Tanya Goodman Sykes is Rusty’s daughter. She performed with the Happy Goodman Family as a teenager. She has also had a solo career and been part of Heirloom. Her husband, Michael Sykes, has produced for the likes of the Oak Ridge Boys and the Gaither Vocal Band. Johnny Minick pastors River of Life Assembly of God Church in Smyrna, Tennessee. The trio’s first album is SONGS IN THE KEY OF HAPPY (2014, GSM, Spring House Productions). Tanya shares: “There is trust between the three of us. There is friendship. There is a wealth of shared experience. We all grew up in church 24-7, and this music has been a big part of all three of our lives. None of us planned this, but we’re in a place in our lives where we walk through doors as they open”.
The album begins with ‘What a Happy Time’, an upbeat Southern Gospel tune that anticipates Heaven: “We will labor, watch and pray as we go along/Letting Jesus lead the way, keep the courage strong/Knowing that we’ll reach our home by His grace and light/When we all are gathered there/What a happy time/What a happy time tw’ill be/When we all get home/Over by the crystal sea/Never more to roam”. ‘Eyes of Jesus’ is a country ballad written by Joel Hemphill. It reflects on who Christ is: “The eyes of Jesus are upon each footstep that I take/His ears are always open when I pray/His hands are always there to help me lift my heavy load/His heart is broken/Every time I stray”. ‘Until you’ve Known the Love’ is another country ballad. It is one of many Rusty Goodman compositions and shows God as the One we ultimately need to pursue: “If in your lifetime you could meet everybody/And you could call every name from here to yon/But if you’ve not come face to face with Jesus and His saving grace/Then you’ve known no one, until you’ve known God and His love/Until you’ve known the loving hand that reaches down to a fallen man/And lifts him up from out of sin/Where he has trod/Until you’ve known just how it feels to know that God is really real/Then you’ve known nothing/Until you’ve known the love of God”.
‘I’ll Be Alright’ is a great song for Easter: “Very soon I will reach the hill, Golgotha/I’ll touch the cross crudely fashioned from a tree/And if just one precious drop of His blood touches me/I’ll be alright because now I’ve reached Calvary/If my feeble hand of faith can only reach out/Through the dark and dreary storm of unbelief/If He’ll slip His nail-scarred hand into my hand/I’ll be alright as soon as I’ve touched Calvary”. ‘The Sweetest Song I Know’ is a terrific, upbeat Southern Gospel song with conversational lyrics: “I’ve heard them sing He paid the price and Jesus bore it all/I’ve heard them sing I’m coming home and hear the Master’s call/I’ve heard them sing the modern songs and the songs of long ago/But amazing grace, how sweet the sound/Is the sweetest song I know”. ‘This is Just what Heaven means to Me’ paints a picture of utopia: “A place where there is no misunderstanding/And from all enmity and strife we’re free/No unkind words which wound the heart are spoken/This is just what heaven means to me”.
‘It Happened’, written by Ray Lewis, is a toe-tapper that recounts New Testament events: “On the Sea of Galilee a storm prevailed/Well, the Lord arose and said ‘Peace be Still’/And it happened just like He said/Those ‘round about said ‘What sort of man rebukes the elements and they understand?’/And it happens just like He said/It happened like He said/As He cleansed the leper and He raised the dead/Fed the five thousand with five loaves of bread”. Johnny Minick and friend Tim Hill wrote the new song ‘Settle the Score’. Ultimately, it is a rally cry for spiritual victory: “Settle the score, settle the score/ Everything Satan has stolen, God can restore/Now’s not the time for doubt and despair/You cannot lose when Jesus is there/Don’t settle for less anymore/Settle the score”. ‘Who Am I’ is an inspirational classic that contrasts God’s greatness with our smallness: “When I think of how He came so far from glory/Came and dwelt among the lowly such as I/To suffer shame and such disgrace/On Mount Calvary, take my place/Then I ask myself this question/’Who am I?’/Who am I that a King would bleed and die for?/Who am I that He would pray/’Not my will, Thine’ for?/The answer I may never know/Why He ever loved me so/To an old rugged cross He’d go/For ‘Who am I?’”.
‘I Don’t Want to get Adjusted’ finds the group having church: “I am longing for the coming of my Savior, Lord, and King/And I can hear all my loved ones singing/That brand new song/I’d like to sing/Oh, I don’t wanna get adjusted to this world, to this world/I’ve got a home that’s so much better/I’m gonna go there sooner or later/I don’t wanna get adjusted to this world”. ‘I Hold a Clear Title to a Mansion’ includes these great words of Christian testimony: “My deed was both signed and recorded/The day Jesus saved me from sin/And my name was engraved in gold letters/In the Lamb’s Book of Life, safe within/I’m an heir to a mansion in glory/When from this life here I will roam/I’m waiting for Jesus to call me/Then I’ll lay down my cross and go home”.
My favorite ever Happy Goodman song, ‘I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey’, is up next. This peppy Southern Gospel song was penned by Jimmie Davis and Charles Goodman. It makes good use of the fiddle. Here are some of the lyrics: “Well, I started out travellin’ for the Lord many years ago/I’ve had a lot of heartache and I’ve met a lot of grief and woe/But when I would stumble, then I would humble down/And there I’d say/I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now/Well, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now/Gotta make it to heaven somehow/Though the devil tempt me and he tried to turn me around”. ‘Look for Me’ is a sentimental ballad about the other side: “As you go down your list of first things, there’s no question/You’ll want to see your loved ones waiting there for you/And when ya feel you’ve shared your story with the last one that wants to hear you tell just how you made it through/Look for me/I’d like to hear it too/I realize when you arrive there’ll be so much to view”.
To me, SONGS IN THE KEY OF HAPPY is the perfect album! The vocals are wonderfully performed in classic Goodman Family fashion. The instrumentation is both traditional and contemporary. Instruments used include: steel guitar, dobro, organ, mandolin, and harmonica. The lyrics boldly point to Christ and our hope, as believers, of Heaven. Young and old alike who are going through a difficult time, should acquire this album full of encouragement. I hope this trio puts out many more albums together! I’m rating this one 100% and recommending it to fans of Ontario, Canada’s The Proverbs. For more info visit: www.goodmanrevival.com, www.vestalandfriends.com, and www.gaither.com.
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