CD Review: The Only Way by Greater Vision

This is my first Greater Vision project ever. I’m just starting to get into the group, so my review may be a little different from the many others that have been posted. This is the opinion of somebody coming to GV’s music with fresh ears. Hopefully that’ll get you to read this even though everybody and his uncle has already reviewed the album. Enjoy!

1. He Didn’t When He Could Have Passed By (Griffin): Perfect country/gospel opener. Brisk fiddles get things going at a satisfying clip, providing a catchy setting for a thoughtful lyric about Jesus’ choices to stop and care for people’s needs when He could have let their cries go unanswered. As the lyric points out, “With every step he took, the cross was heavy on His mind.” Yet He heard the cry of the blind man: “Do not pass me by.” The second verse then makes the natural comparison to our own sinfulness and need for a Savior, who did not pass us by either.

One thing I did find somewhat odd is the repeated line in the chorus saying, “He could have passed by the little boy who had died, left him laying in the way.” I believe it’s meant to refer to the story of the widow’s dead son. But number one, he wasn’t a little boy, he was a young man (which is why his mother’s plight was so desperate—as a widow, she now had nobody to support her), and number two, he wasn’t just “laying in the way,” his body was being carried away for burial. However, this really is a fun song to listen to, and there are several key changes to keep the interest going.

2. Safe Within His Hand (Allman): A mellow Chris Allman song makes a smooth listen. It’s very leisurely overall, but Chris sings a strong and confident second verse after a key change to give it a bit of excitement. Short but sweet.

3. No Longer Chained (Griffin): This song’s historical blooper has already been noted by Daniel Mount. It uses the Roman practice of chaining a soldier to a prisoner to create a story-song about one such soldier who was saved through Paul’s testimony (which naturally leads to a convenient double use of the phrase “no longer chained”). In the very first verse, it sets the stage by having the soldier come home and tell his wife and children about meeting Paul for the first time. The problem is that this would never have happened, because Roman soldiers weren’t allowed to marry and have families.

There have been varying opinions on whether this anachronism matters, but I find it distracting. “Hugged his wife and kids and said ‘I’m home…’ ” Now I’m imagining them all around the dinner table on the day he gets saved: “So guys, what were your three good things for the day? […] That’s awesome! Well, I guess it’s my turn now…” See? It just doesn’t work. Then the bridge asks us to imagine other soldiers like him and “what they might have gone on home from work to share.” It’s all through the song. So ultimately, a good idea (probably inspired by Philippians where Paul says, “It has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ”) with nice music and some good lyrics, but an awkward setup.

4. I Know a Man Who Can (Campbell/Davis): Insert wild cheers, whistles, and screams here. This is EASILY the prime cut of the CD. I am serious: Think twice about listening to this one while driving, because you could end up having a Holy Ghost moment on the road, and then, well, “Jesus take the wheel” and all that.

This has hitherto been Kirk Talley’s signature song, but Chris Allman has officially stolen it. Southern Gospel has many great tenors, but few with a more effortlessly clear sound than Chris. As Aaron Swain once put it, he must have found the tenor singers’ fountain of youth, because he certainly shows no signs of aging. His flawless delivery combined with flawless production (a heavenly blend of piano, B-Hammond and electric guitar), make this a touch-down moment and a sure-fire future crowd favorite.

5. He’s the Only Way (Allman/Griffin): This is a very timely song, bringing welcome theological clarity when too many people are bringing fuzziness. It matter-of-factly brushes aside all the “many roads to heaven” nonsense and says plainly, “He’s not a good, not the best, but the only way.” And it’s heaps of fun, with a great “chicken-pickin’ ” electric guitar sound. One quibble: In the second verse, it discusses Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus and assumes that Nicodemus walked away with a complete Christian understanding of who Jesus was and the theology of salvation. This is a bit simplistic. No doubt Nicodemus walked away intrigued, with a growing realization that Jesus was not just another prophet, but he would hardly have had all his theological ducks so neatly in a row. (Incidentally, a fascinating Old/New Testament connection was recently brought to my attention regarding that passage, which I’ll probably write a post about one of these Sundays.) But overall, great lyric, and I love the 3rd verse:

Have you come by the way of the cross

Where atoning grace is found?

All of your gains been counted as loss,

Have you laid your burdens down?

You see, perfection’s required

To stay away from the fire

So call on Jesus’ name…

6. Like I Wish I’d Lived (Griffin): This is the first of three slow songs in a row, prompting some reviewers to complain that the CD’s tempo drags too much in the middle. I do have something of the same feeling and might not sit through all three before jumping around to one of the faster ones for a break. But it doesn’t seem like a huge deal. However, I’m puzzled, along with others, that this is the album’s first radio single. Yet I hasten to add that I really like the song. It’s a very poignant, simple prayer asking God to help us make up for any regrets we may carry with us from past mistakes. Plus, it’s sung by Chris Allman, and well, what more can you say?

7. But God (Griffin/LaBar): Gerald Wolfe sings this  reflective song about trials and God’s sovereignty, originally done by Legacy Five. It’s a good performance and a soothing sound, but they slow down the tempo from the original, which makes it run a little long. And even though the verses are sung in a minor key, the overall easy-listening country feel seems to clash a bit with the lyrics, which are trying to describe some pretty dark times of suffering. It’s a little hard to concentrate on a lyric like “The voice that once praised Him now groans through the tears/And questions, ‘Lord, where are you now?’ ” when an electric guitar is doing bluesy little licks in the background. Like David Bruce Murray, I might have preferred to replace this with another fast song. But Lari Goss’s strings do sound good here.

8. We Still Have to Pray (Griffin): This is one of my favorite songs on the record. The music is gorgeous, and Rodney Griffin’s voice sounds very rich. It uses the Old Testament story of Rebekah’s barrenness and Isaac’s prayer for her to make a moving illustration about waiting on the Lord. It reminds us that “even when we’re in God’s will, we still have to pray.” I thought the bridge was striking: “You’re wishing that the Lord would show you what’s in store. But He loves you way too much to let you lose your faith’s reward.” It’s just a really comforting song, a great encouragement for anyone seeking the Lord in a difficult time.

9. Eternity’s About to Begin (Allman): Injecting some welcome up-beat relief, this textbook toe-tapper begins with Chris Allman, Gerald Wolfe’s piano and the B-3 once again stealing the show black gospel style. It then picks up the pace and proceeds to hop along quite nicely, filled with imagery about the celebration that’s “waiting to begin.” The Imperials’ “First Morning in Heaven” (not to be confused with “First Day in Heaven”) is still my favorite song along these lines, but this one is enjoyable too. (Say, maybe Greater Vision should think about covering that Imperials song. It’s very Chris.)

10. Heaven Can’t Be Far Away (Hurst): If “I Know a Man Who Can” was Chris Allman’s “hallelujah, glory be” moment, this song is Gerald Wolfe’s. They’re covering themselves here, having first recorded this song 18 years ago. Gerald still knocks it out of the park today. Even in the studio, he can barely contain his excitement as the song ramps up to the climax. He practically takes you through the gates of pearl with him. Classic, classic stuff.

11. Another Child’s Coming Home (Allman): With all the songs that have been inspired by the prodigal son, somehow the theme never really gets old. This Allman-penned closer is a quiet, understated addition to the “prodigal son catalogue.” There’s a beautiful novel called Gilead where one of the central characters is a lonely prodigal son, and that book together with its companion novel Home has caused me to hear songs like this in a new way. You constantly want to tell the character, Jack, that he is loved, that he’s not worthless, and that he needs Jesus to right all the wrong in his life. His father desperately loves him, yet Jack struggles to accept grace, even after he comes home. Even though the song is more straightforward than the books (which are more complex than your average prodigal son-inspired piece), I still think the lyrics really capture the cry of the father’s heart in the story. He stands with open arms, truly overjoyed and eager to welcome the wayward child home, for no other reason but love.

Get his room prepared, because I know he’s tired

And when he gets here, I’m sure he’ll want to rest awhile

And if you need me, I’ll be out in the road

Because another child’s coming home…

Final thoughts: You can’t get much more quintessentially southern gospel than Greater Vision, and this album reminds me why I like the music so much. Griffin and Allman are churning out solid songs, and putting Allman back on tenor has given the group a huge shot in the arm vocally. Not that Kitson wasn’t a great singer, but I think I speak for everybody when I say “WELCOME BACK, CHRIS!” This album also promises good things for the group’s future from a production standpoint. Many artists are going to miss Lari Goss’s work as he pulls back for the sake of his health in the coming years, but if Gerald Wolfe’s production on this CD is any indication, Greater Vision should manage just fine. His touch is relaxed and sure.

I’m very glad to have this album, and I’m giving it 4. 5 stars. Go get it. (Unless you absolutely cannot stand southern gospel of course. Then you might not like it so much.)

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14 Comments

Filed under 4.5 star, CD Reviews

14 responses to “CD Review: The Only Way by Greater Vision

  1. If someone absolutely cannot stand Southern Gospel, one wonders why they would be reading here. :)

    Interesting catch on song #1; that didn’t even occur to me. That’s why multiple reviews of a CD are a good thing—different people will notice different things.

    • It was a joke…sort of emphasizing the fact that Greater Vision is about as southern gospel as you get. ;)

      Glad you thought I had something worthwhile to offer. It’s nice to see you around. You’re always welcome. :)

  2. Lydia McGrew

    Here is an interesting article on Roman soldiers and marriage:

    http://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc/pdfs/scheidel/110509.pdf

    Apparently soldiers did s0metimes cohabit with women and take them as what in our legal parlance would be called “common law wives” with whom they had children. However, these unions were entirely legally unrecognized, and the children were legally illegitimate. One emperor allowed the illegitimate to inherit _if_ they could prove their paternity (wh. would be very difficult) and if there were no legitimate children or other nearer relatives. The whole image of a Roman soldier simply going home to a wife and children day after day and chatting with them is extremely anachronistic. My impression in any event is that an active-duty soldier would have been living with other soldiers. Any liasons with women would not (as far as I can tell) have taken the form of clocking out of soldiering in the evening and heading “home.”

    • Mrs. McGrew, while I had not read that particular article previously, that was exactly my impression on the question when I provoked some considerable ire when raising the issue several weeks ago – there were common-law cohabitations, but not legally recognized marriages.

      The thing that most surprised me in the comment section there was the rather astonishing numbers of readers who commented that historical inaccuracies did not matter.

      • Lydia McGrew

        Just to add to the complexities, the Bible indicates that a centurion could have a house. (Don’t have the reference right here, but it’s the miracle where Jesus heals the centurion’s servant.) That doesn’t necessarily imply that a centurion could have a legal wife, though. I gather from the above article that we have no evidence of a formal exception for centurions.

        In any event, the whole “Honey, I’m home” picture is anachronistic in a lot of situations in history, even when the person in question was married. What about a soldier of a medieval garrison, for example? Or in a medieval castle, you might have lots of married couples, but they might have _at most_ a single room to share, or the wife might be a lady-in-waiting while the husband was a man-at-arms. Plenty of men in Victorian times who had jobs connected to the British Empire literally lived in Africa or India and saw their families only on furloughs or leaves, unless the wife and children could stand living in the harsh climate and conditions of Africa or India, which many couldn’t. There have been many situations in human history where the free-standing home and knocking off work at supper time simply weren’t the norm for significant swatches of the population. Times were too tough, and people adjusted.

        An historical inaccuracy that was just a simple mistake on an obscure issue would just be an “oops,” but it sounds like this one is more the kind of thing a lyric author might have wondered from the outset, “Hmm, doesn’t that sound a little anachronistic? I’d better check that out.”

        But I’m not trying to make the whole thread about that one aspect of that one song.

    • Yeah, that’s what I had seen as well, but like you said, an illegitimate family is completely different from the “Honey I’m home” concept.

      • I’m not married. And I have a “honey”. Forward on Daniel, forward on! History does matter…different interpretations on Scripture, there are different interpretations of history. Just as today, you can have a culturally recognized marriage, even if it is not a state governed, legal marriage. And we can assume if it wasn’t a “legal” union, then when the soldier accepted Christ, he got right, moved out, saw his kids on the weekends and holidays, and waited for his term to be done so he could rightly marry her. Paul would encourage that anyways.

        But I’ll concede.

        Nice review.

      • “I’m not married…YET,” is, I believe, what you meant to say. ;)

        Thank you.

  3. I do like the perspective of “fresh ears”. It does indeed make it different than the other opinions.

  4. Sammy

    To be frank… Your comments in regards to No Longer Chained are rather shallow. Move on to the deeper meaning of the song which is the testimony of a prisoner who remained faithful through his chains was and is able to change the life of the most calloused of souls. And, how can you be so sure that this is not exactly how it happened? How do you know that a Roman soldier didn’t come home one evening, sit around the table with his family and share his conversion? Ok, it goes against history… So you’re saying that every single human in history played by the rules? Nicodemus came to Jesus by night… Why? Because he was affiliated with the Pharisees. Doesn’t history tell us that the Pharisees were those who were enemies of Jesus? I’ve seen Greater Vision perform this song and have watched as people wept because they got it. Glad they weren’t looking for a history lesson….

    • I don’t deny that it can bless people. I just think it’s healthy to strive for accuracy in songwriting. You’re welcome to leave comments on Daniel’s blog where the issue was first raised.

    • Sammy, your position is that it does not matter if the song is accurate if it blesses people. In other words, the ends justify the means.

      Dare I mention Watergate? No, that would be the nuclear option, so I had better not. But the ends-justify-the-means philosophy has led individuals and nations into all sorts of troubles in the past.

  5. Sammy

    Daniel and Yankeegirl… Read my comment closer. My point was that it may be exactly something that happened. You guys have judged the story as if it’s something that was an impossibility. Sure, songs need to be accurate, doctrinally speaking. This song does not challenge the written word of God. Your comments are from a historical perspective… Not a Biblical one.

    • There’s nothing wrong with creating a fictional story. But when you’re trying to use a historical setting/backdrop, you want to make sure that the story you’re telling is believable. The scenario being described in this song runs contrary to all indications we have of the way things actually were at the time. There’s nothing in the Bible that contradicts it, so it’s not even a matter of the Bible versus other evidence. It’s history. Why must we have something against history?

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