Prime Cuts: The Land of Oohs and Aahs/Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Shepherd's Song, Lady
Overall Grade: 5/5
The 70s was the decade where music was central to culture. It was an era where there were fewer competitors for one's entertainment. Video game machines were as big as your refrigerators and they are only found in arcades. Television shows in most homes were still in black and white with only a small handful of channels. Thus, it was the epoch where vinyl records thrived. Recorded music on vinyls was what was hot. It was the aeon where people actually have to fork out money from their wallets to purchase music. This forces consumers to have to listen again and again to the vinyls they have had to spend with their hard-earned money on, rather than skip around Spotify for the next ear-worm. Therefore, in order for a consumer to part his or her own hard earned dole, the songs had to be good. All of this to say, it was much more stringent to score a record deal and it was even more insurmountable to score a big hit. In 1976, Reba Rambo did it. Her album "Lady" not only a big hit across musical genres, it was one that defied the hands of time.
"Lady" almost never materialized. Though Reba Rambo was one-third of the groundbreaking Southern Gospel trio, The Rambos, with her parents Buck and Dottie Rambo, she had a separate solo career as a left of center folk-rock singer-songwriter and released four solo albums as part of the then-burgeoning Jesus Movement to both controversy and critical acclaim. Later, when she and producer, Phil Johnson approached the label for a budget for a new solo album, the executives weren't interested. Determined to record Reba's songs, Johnson called in favors and recorded Lady with some of Nashville's top session players when other artists he was working with had time left at the end of their sessions. They submitted the final project to the label who agreed to release it, but without much promotional effort. The album went on to be a huge seller and won for Rambo a Dove Award and a Grammy nomination.
Thanks to Provident Distribution, "Lady" finally gets to go digital across all musical platforms 43 years later. Having only heard "Lady" on this side of the Millennium, it's easy to see why the album has such an overarching impact on today's music. One of the hallmarks of the album's legacy is the emphasis placed upon the the vocalist rather than other musical condiments. Just take a listen at Rambo's jazzy take of the of the cover "Just as I Am" (the only song not to feature Rambo as a co-songwriter or writer). One is pleasantly surprised how the piano sounds are backgrounded. Rather, the emphasis of this hymn is on Rambo's stirring soprano which brings us through the mountain highs and lows of a surrendered life to Jesus. Though the cheesy sounding synth need some getting used to, Rambo's command over the musical nuances of "He Gives Me Joy" is stellar.
Another reason why this record is still as relevant today as it was 43 years ago is that the words are insightfully picturesque. The title track "Lady" is a prime example. Told from the vantage point of Mary, "Lady"gets into Mary's psyche and emotions as she witness four poignant moments in the life of her son, Jesus. Rambo gets into the skin of Mary to narrate with an overflow of maternal anguish and angst at how the world treated her Son. This by itself is just priceless. Then she waxes poetry when she utilizes the metaphors and images from the Wizard of Oz on the hope-filled "The Land of Oohs and Aahs." Almost half a century before Cory Asbury put to song the parable of the missing sheep, Rambo does it just as beautifully on the touching "Shepherd's Song."
In a time when music was not as disposable as the next skip, the music here is artfully created. And told with depth and nuances, Rambo inspires us again that singing is both a science and art. This is why we hear echoes of Rambo in later singers of great such as Saudi Patty and Taranda Greene.